Press Room

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Howard Bragman on Shelly Sterling and Magic Johnson

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Michael Fertik discusses E.U. privacy ruling on BBC Radio

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Michael Fertik weighs in on historic E.U. ruling against Google

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

The New York Times: European Court Lets Users Erase Records on Web


Europe’s highest court said on Tuesday that people had the right to influence what the world could learn about them through online searches, a ruling that rejected long-established notions about the free flow of information on the Internet.

A search engine like Google should allow online users to be “forgotten” after a certain time by erasing links to web pages unless there are “particular reasons” not to, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said.

The decision underlined the power of search companies to retrieve controversial information while simultaneously placing sharp limits on their ability to do so. It raised the possibility that a Google search could become as cheery — and as one-sided — as a Facebook profile or an About.me page.

Jonathan Zittrain, a law and computer science professor at Harvard, said those who were determined to shape their online personas could in essence have veto power over what they wanted people to know.  “Some will see this as corrupting,” he said. “Others will see it as purifying. I think it’s a bad solution to a very real problem, which is that everything is now on our permanent records.”

In some ways, the court is trying to erase the last 25 years, when people learned to routinely check out online every potential suitor, partner or friend. Under the court’s ruling, information would still exist on websites, court documents and online archives of newspapers, but people would not necessarily know it was there. The decision cannot be appealed.

In the United States, the court’s ruling would clash with the First Amendment. But the decision heightens a growing uneasiness everywhere over the Internet’s ability to persistently define people against their will.

“More and more Internet users want a little of the ephemerality and the forgetfulness of predigital days,” said Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet governance at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Young people, in particular, do not want their drunken pictures to follow them for the next 30 years. “If you’re always tied to the past, it’s difficult to grow, to change,” Mr. Mayer-Schönberger said. “Do we want to go into a world where we largely undo forgetting?”

The court said search engines were not simply dumb pipes, but played an active role as data “controllers,” and must be held accountable for the links they provide. Search engines could be compelled to remove links to certain pages, it said, “even when the publication in itself on those pages is lawful.”

The court also said that a search engine “as a general rule” should place the right to privacy over the right of the public to find information.

Left unclarified was exactly what history remains relevant. Should a businessman be able to expunge a link to his bankruptcy a decade ago? Could a would-be politician get a drunken-driving arrest removed by calling it a youthful folly?

The burden of fulfilling the court’s directives will fall largely on Google, which is by far the dominant search engine in Europe. It has more than 90 percent of the search business in France and Germany.

Google said in a statement that the ruling was “disappointing” and that the company was “very surprised” it differed so much from a preliminary verdict last year that was largely in its favor.

The decision leaves many questions unanswered. Among them is whether information would be dropped only on Google sites in individual countries, or whether it would be also erased from Google.com. Even as Europe has largely erased its internal physical borders, the ruling could impose digital borders.

Another open question is how much effort a search engine should reasonably spend investigating complaints.

“I expect the default action by search engines will be to take down information,” said Orla Lynskey, a lecturer in law at the London School of Economics.

A trade group for information technology companies said the court’s decision posed a threat to free expression.

“This ruling opens the door to large-scale private censorship in Europe,” said James Waterworth, the head of the Brussels office for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which counts Facebook, Microsoft and Google among its members. “While the ruling likely means to offer protections, our concern is it could also be misused by politicians or others with something to hide.”

That view was echoed by Big Brother Watch, a London-based civil liberties group that was perhaps the first to invoke the specter of Orwell.

“The principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history,” said Emma Carr, the organization’s acting director.

Mr. Mayer-Schönberger, the author of “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age,” said such concerns were overblown. He said the court was simply affirming what had been standard European practice.

Relatively few people in Europe have had issues with wanting to delete information on the Internet, Mr. Mayer-Schönberger said. “I don’t think this will lead to the end of the Internet as we know it.”

Michael Fertik is chief executive of ReputationDefender, which helps people improve their search results into something they find less objectionable.

“For the first time, human dignity will get the same treatment online as copyright,” Mr. Fertik said. “It will be protected under the law. That’s a huge deal.”

The only loser, he said, was Google. “It no longer gets to profit from your misery.”

And perhaps ReputationDefender. “This ruling is not necessarily favorable for my business,” he said.

Those who worry that many people might use the ruling to erase information that is detrimental but is unquestionedly accurate may find support in the case that began it.

The case started in 2009 when Mario Costeja, a Spanish lawyer, complained that entering his name in Google led to legal notices dating to 1998 in an online version of a Spanish newspaper that detailed his debts and the forced sale of his property.

Mr. Costeja said the debt issues had been resolved many years earlier and were no longer relevant. So he asked the newspaper that had published the information, La Vanguardia, to remove the notices and Google to expunge the links. When they refused, Mr. Costeja complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency that his rights to the protection of his personal data were being violated.

The Spanish authority ordered Google to remove the links in July 2010, but it did not impose any order on La Vanguardia. Google challenged the order, and the National High Court of Spain referred the case to the European court.

Mr. Costeja’s lawyer, Joaquín Muñoz, said Tuesday’s ruling was a victory not only for his client, but for all Europeans. “The fundamental point is that consumers will now know what the rules of the game are and how to defend their rights,” he said.

Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/technology/google-should-erase-web-links-to-some-personal-data-europes-highest-court-says.html?hp


Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Howard Bragman on #BringBackOurGirls, Monica Lewinsky, NFL Draft

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Howard Bragman discusses V. Stiviano’s odd behavior on ‘World News with David Muir’

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Howard Bragman on the fate of the Sterling-less Clippers

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Howard Bragman on the Clippers controversy

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Chris Brown, Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Warren’s book tour

How do you bring a vision to life?  Michael Fertik talks innovation and entrepreneurship at the 2012 Blouin Leadership Summit.

The New York Times: CreepShield Claims To Out the Creeps in Online Dating


As facial recognition software proliferates, some developers are bound to test our comfort level with the notion of strangers seeking to put a name to our faces whether we’re online or on the street.

Take CreepShield, a nascent site that claims to make online dating safer — by offering to determine how closely head shots on dating profiles resemble those of sex offenders.

“Photos from popular dating sites such as Match.com, eHarmony, PlentyOfFish and OkCupid can be used,” the news release for CreepShield said.

The company invites users to enter a link to an image into a search field on its site, which then uses facial identification technology to compare the face in the photo against its “constantly updated database of 475,000-plus registered sex offenders.”

“We see facial recognition as a tool that can definitely help make online dating safer,” Kevin Alan Tussy, the creator of CreepShield, said in a news release.

Yet CreepShield seems like a recipe for guilt by juxtaposition. The site returns results showing the photos and names of offenders in its database — even when they are obviously far from a match.

This week, I tried out the site using a photograph of a public person with a clean record — Michael Fertik, chief executive of ReputationDefender, a company that helps people manage their online personas.

On the left-hand side of my screen, CreepShield promptly displayed the photo I’d uploaded of Mr. Fertik, a white man. Across from his photo on the right, it displayed a list of possible matches, starting with the photo of a Hispanic woman.

“Criminal History Found! Known Alias Found!” ran the text next to the woman’s image, which the site rated as a 49 percent match for Mr. Fertik. At least, the photos of the professional reputation defender and the sex offender had one thing in common: both had rimless eyeglasses.

Mr. Fertik was not amused when I sent him a screen shot.

It would have been more appropriate, he politely suggested, for the site to disclose that it had not found a match for him in its system.

“The unsavory part of this is that it allows users to think that the person they are plugging in, whether it is Richard Branson or Ann-Margret, may in fact be the face of an offender in a database,” Mr. Fertik said. “When something has as strong an impact as sex offense, you’d prefer the result to say, ‘sorry no match.’”

In an email, Mr. Tussy, the site’s creator, said that it returned results for every query, even when the matches were unlikely, because the probability of a match was highly dependent on the quality of the photograph that a user had entered. In other words, a clear, front-facing head shot and a blurry profile shot might return the same matches in the same ranking order, but the second set would indicate lower likelihoods of a match.

“When we return a low-percentage match (and we consider matches under 60 percent very low) we are saying, ‘These photos are the closest matches we have but they still aren’t very similar,’ ” Mr. Tussy wrote in the email.

He added that the site had tweaked its language about matching after he received my inquiries.

This is not the first time that Mr. Tussy has pushed the boundaries of people’s comfort levels with face-matching software.

A few months back, he gained some notoriety after inviting people to demo a similar app, called NameTag – and promptly received a letter from a prominent United States senator asking him to delay its introduction.

Designed initially as an app for Google Glass, NameTag offered to identify the faces of people that appeared in a user’s video feed – and instantly display those people’s names, occupations and public social networking profiles. (Google has said it would prohibit face-recognition apps for Google Glass.)

Mr. Tussy also described NameTag as a service intended to reduce people’s risk of interacting with strangers. Those who didn’t want to participate, he said, would be able to opt out of his company’s face-matching database.

But Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Technology, Privacy and the Law, had a different take on NameTag.

He wrote a letter to Mr. Tussy saying that the app raised serious personal safety and privacy issues. Before running face identification software on consumers, Mr. Franken recommended, the company should first obtain their affirmative agreement to opt in.

“No specific federal law governs this technology,” Mr. Franken wrote in the letter to Mr. Tussy, “so early adopter companies such as yours will play a vital role in determining the extent to which privacy and personal safety are protected.”

NameTag is now on hold.

In his email, Mr. Tussy wrote that CreepShield differs from NameTag because the sex offenders in the new site’s database “have no right to privacy” with respect to their status.

“Moreover, we never say or suggest that an individual in a photo uploaded by a user is a registered sex offender,” he wrote. “Instead, we leave it up to end users to decide whether the individuals in the photos they upload are the same individuals displayed as potential matches.”

Contrary to Mr. Franken’s suggestion, however, CreepShield does not seek permission from ordinary people on dating sites, most of whom are unlikely to be sexual predators, before allowing strangers to run their dating profile head shots through its face-identification engine.

In that, CreepShield looks a lot like a reincarnation of NameTag.

Original article: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/creepshield-claims-to-out-the-creeps-in-online-dating/

Image Credit: The New York Times