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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

Michael Fertik calls FCC’s proposed new rules bad for consumers

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

NPR All Things Considered: Can’t Ask That? Some Job Interviewers Go To Social Media Instead


Many of Don Kluemper's management students at the University of Illinois at Chicago have had this experience: After going on a job interview, they sometimes receive "friend" requests from their interviewers.

It puts the students in a bind, he says. They fear that not accepting the request might hurt their job chances, but they also feel compelled to scrub their profiles before accepting.

"They didn't know why they were being friended," Kluemper says. "If it was some personal request or if the person was going to be screening their profile."

In a job interview, there are some things that aren't immediately apparent to the interviewer: a candidate's religion, marital status or sexual orientation. Employers are not allowed to ask about those things, by law. Many employers check social media profiles of prospective hires online, but doing so is raising questions for both employers and job applicants.

"[The answer to] all of those questions that you shouldn't ask in a job interview [are] readily available on a social networking website like Facebook," Kluemper says. "So that creates the problem."

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of employers now use social networking to recruit candidates, up from 34 percent six years ago. About a dozen states have banned employers from asking workers for their social media passwords, and Congress is considering several measures that would make that a national policy.

But as far as using information that a job seeker makes publicly available, the rules aren't exactly clear. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has not issued specific rules governing social media.

Since so much of the searching is done unofficially, Kluemper says rules might not even help.

"Policies and regulation might just force hiring managers to do this in a less structured and more informal way, which wouldn't be positive," Kluemper says.

Patricia Sanchez Abril, a business law professor at the University of Miami, says that anti-discrimination laws apply regardless of where an employer sees the information. That doesn't make things much easier, though.

"This is a really gray area right now," she says. "How do you prove that the employer Googled you and learned that you want a big family, or that you keep the Sabbath? It's much harder to prove, especially since many of these judgments are even formed subconsciously. The employer may not even realize that he or she is discriminating."

Research shows that employers are discriminating based on what they find on social media. Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, recently set up fake identities of identically qualified candidates who identified their religion only on social media.

"Our results suggest that yes, there will be indeed opportunities for discrimination," Acquisti says.

For example, those who self-identified online as Muslim averaged 17 percent fewer callbacks nationally. Acquisti says that it's hard for policymakers to address these issues because technology always outpaces the law.

"What to do next is unclear," Acquisti says.

Renee Jackson, a technology and workplace attorney, tells her employer clients: "They're allowed to look, but they're not allowed to use."

To make their hiring policies clear and uniform, she counsels clients to draw up guidelines: "Who is going to do the search; when the search will be conducted during the hiring process; what sites will be searched; what type of information they're looking for," Jackson says.

Also, how might the company allow a candidate to rebut or explain suspicious information?

There are third-party firms like Social Intelligence that conduct social media searches for employers, looking for violent, racist or other illegal behavior but redacting any information that's illegal to consider.

Job candidates might find it tempting to do away with a social media presence altogether. But Michael Fertik, the CEO and founder of ReputationDefender, says that you're then sacrificing your chances at online recruitment.

"Employers and others are increasingly relying on machines – on machines! – to surface candidates for them," Fertik says.

It's not just a one-way street, either, he adds.

"Candidates research people who interview them all the time. They are evaluating you, just the way you're evaluating them," Fertik says.

So employers need to watch how they appear online, as well.


Original article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/04/11/301791749/cant-ask-that-some-job-interviewers-go-to-social-media-instead

The Economist: Junk Mail – What Comes Around…


The internet is usually abuzz about spam, also known as UCE: unsolicited commercial email. It clogs mailboxes and contains fraudulent content, viruses and phish attacks. The old style of spam, junk mail sent through the post office, is less commented upon because, while irritating, it is seemingly easier to toss.

However, when the email is legitimate, such as a message from a business from which Babbage has made purchases, a single click is often enough to halt the flow. Not so with the paper kind, which often hides instructions to be removed from a list in illegibly small type sizes, and may require sending a letter through the post to consummate the request. Or it omits them altogether. True, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) maintains a site for its member companies through which a consumer may register and block (by category) catalogues, magazine offers and other solicitations. But that is a subset of all direct-mail advertisements.

Your correspondent, who nearly four years ago wrote about the precipitous drop in routine mail, such as invoices, bills and the like, fills the Babbage family's recycling bin with missives imploring the household to sign up for cable-modem service (already installed), revise one's mortgage or apply for a credit card. Thus has he given PaperKarma a spin, a free iOS app that automates the removal process.

Acquired by ReputationDefender, the app is a model of simplicity. Snap a picture on a smartphone of unwanted mass snail mail and it will be removed. A user at first needs to enter one or more addresses at which mail is received, or different names associated with the same address. Then, tap a button and follow a couple of steps to view the image, confirm the address to which it was sent and submit it for processing. Often within seconds, the app notes the submission to be removed has been received.

Michael Fertik, the boss of ReputationDefender, says PaperKarma is intentionally single purpose and remains free as an advertisement for the firm's other services, even though none are required to use the app. Its paid service uses one click to automate removal from DMA lists, along with other options to shape how search engines and other websites represent a person online.

Mr Fertik says PaperKarma uses optical character recognition (OCR) as a first pass of identifying information. If that fails, the image is sent to humans. If the return address or sender can be properly identified, "We've built up quite a robust database now of removal processes." He says the hoops for each company may be different, but they've sorted it out.

Mr Fertik is too discreet to tell Babbage on the record which companies are naughty and which nice about complying with its proxy removal requests. However, he says the app will be updated soon to allow users to mark "good karma" (compliant companies) and "bad karma," and it may publish its statistics.

The app has removed roughly 10m unwanted mailings per year by the firm's reckoning. Future versions will offer new features, which could include a request to switch from a printed catalogue to be placed on an email list. Such features would reduce the flow of paper, and also provide a revenue stream for the app.

PaperKarma is the leading edge of a wedge Mr Fertik wants to advance on behalf of his company's subscribers, though. He envisions warehousing information for customers and guarding it carefully, while allowing users to request the sorts of information they receive, often with an incentive, such as a coupon or discount. "Do you want to receive certain kinds of information in exchange for certain benefits?" If so, and only if so, he would connect the user and the company.

One could be forgiven for thinking that firms should run their own cost-benefit analyses and make the task PaperKarma automates easier, or reach out to Mr Fertik and others to reduce the flow of material. Babbage today received a 1 kg catalogue full of listings, shipping envelopes and containers from an outfit he has ordered from twice in the last five years. Comcast, his cable-data provider, sends a minimum of three envelopes a week.

The ugly truth is that the cost of mailing and the measurably slight return from offers keeps the flow of junk coming without bad karma—until it is quantified and revealed, potentially by an app like this one. 

Original article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2014/04/junked-mail


Inc.com: Super Simple Tip To Improve Your Customer Service


The following is a blog in Inc.com by Michael Fertik, ReputationDefender's CEO and Founder.

"We listen to our customers."

That's the thing about some clichés–they're often repeated because they should be (and sometimes are) true. The old trope of paying attention to customer feedback has endured for so long simply because so many companies–surprisingly–still don't do it.

At these companies, customer experience often gets lost in the shuffle because of one simple factor: those in charge of listening aren't close enough to those in charge of everything else.

So how do you ensure that what your customers are saying reaches the right people? It's pretty simple, actually: Put the customer service team physically in the middle of everything.

It sounds like the most basic, hyper-practical tip you could imagine. For a company in its first few years, it's a low-cost, high-impact strategy that will produce nearly immediate gains for your business.

We did it at my company–here's why:

We're loopy.

That is, we're into feedback loops. Particularly when you're just starting out, you need to create an excellent feedback loop by co-locating your member services team with program management, development, sales, engineering, fulfillment, and finance. Customers contact your member services team, which then relays it to the right people across different functions, who make changes and roll out updates to customers, who then use it and provide more feedback.

The frontlines are for leaders.

Sit with your customer service team and listen in on calls–or do a few of your own. It's not a terribly revolutionary idea, but it's one that's catching on in all kinds of companies; even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spends two days every year attending call center training, and encourages his managers to do the same. As I've written before, I did all the customer service for the first several months when our company began. In fact, I still read customer emails every day and take the occasional customer service shift.

Learn together.

The learning curve is steep for new companies. Integrating member services with everyone else accelerates that learning process, because everyone hears about what's working–and what's not–at the same time. Customer service is also one of the best and earliest indicators of whether or not your business will succeed. Call it the sensor network of news you can use. The member services team provides the information that everyone else can act on, but if this team is separate from the rest, any actionable steps are delayed before they even begin. And it's no secret that quick action produces happier customers, which in turn drives that intangible, wish-you-could-bottle-it secret sauce: customer loyalty.

Of course, parking teams together can generate sparks, but in small doses friction isn't a bad thing. The next big thing often comes about when different ideas are brought together, and teams that can perform through positive discord offer more value to a company than ones that can't.

Original article: http://www.inc.com/michael-fertik/super-simple-tip-improve-customer-service.html

Harvard Business Review: The Problem With Being Too Nice


The following is a blog from ReputationDefender's CEO and Founder Michael Fertik.

Leaders are placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to be relatable, human and … nice. Many yield to this instinct, because it feels much easier to be liked. Few people want to be the bad guy. But leaders are also expected to make the tough decisions that serve the company or the team’s best interests. Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.

I’ve seen this happen numerous times. A few years ago, a senior staff member of mine made the wrong hire. This can happen to anyone, and the best way to remedy the situation is to address it quickly. Despite my urging to cut the tie, this staff member kept trying to make it work. While I laud the instinct to coach, fast forward two months later, and we were undergoing a rancorous – and unnecessary – transition process. There’s a key lesson here for any leader. Nice is only good when it’s coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.

Here are a few other other recognizable scenarios where being nice isn’t doing you – or anyone – any favors:

Turning to polite deception. You’ve been in these brainstorming meetings – everyone is trying to hack a particular problem, and someone with power raises a ridiculous idea. Instead of people addressing it honestly, brows furrow, heads nod like puppets on strings, and noncommittal murmurs go around. No one feels empowered to gently suggest why that particular idea won’t work. At my company, rejecting polite deception is a big part of how we do business. When something isn’t right, we call each other out on it respectfully, then and there, without delay. Why? It’s not helpful to foster an everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality; you have to earn the honors to get the honors.

The long linger. Sometimes a hire just won’t cut it in a certain role. It might seem easier to keep an employee in place rather than to resolve the mismatch – but it actually is not. Resist the temptation to prolong confrontation, to see if things will get better. It is more of a disservice to let someone flounder, especially when it’s clear that he or she just isn’t hitting the mark. Be kind and communicate clearly, but don’t be nice. Be surgical about it. Make the clean cut. Help the person transition somewhere he or she can succeed. Handling employee issues immediately helps your culture and productivity – over time, you’ll attract employees with similar values and convictions.

Don’t be a doormat. When you’re too nice – to suppliers who can’t deliver on time, to colleagues who don’t do their work, to customers who refuse to pay – you’re actually letting others take advantage of you and your business. When you’re overly generous with your allowances for others, you create a fertile atmosphere for contempt to spread. Imagine the reactions of your most talented, focused, and motivated employees as they watch lackluster coworkers get pass after pass. Anger and resentment take root, morale plummets, and turnover starts to go up, up, up. Think of how loyal customers will react if they see how easy it is for others to take advantage of your services. Your reputation will surely suffer. These problems become more difficult to solve as they pile up. You don’t need to be severe to be respected, but you do need to hold your organization to certain standards — and you must be firm about people meeting them. Setting rules will help you when decisive action is needed. No more delays, no demurring, no debating.

Failing the introspection test. Are you too nice to yourself? Introspection is a powerful leadership tool, but we often forget to use it. When you ask yourself what behaviors hold you and your team back, you can recalibrate your leadership style for the better. When you give employees the space to give you the hard truths, without fear of repercussion, you’ll get valuable perspective and make a giant leap forward in maturing as a leader.

Of course, this doesn’t mean managers get a free pass to be disrespectful, cruel, or a bully in the workplace. There’s a world of difference between being an effective leader with high expectations and dealing with problem after problem caused by milquetoast management. Beware of confusing being nice – or being liked – with being a good leader.

Original article: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/04/the-problem-with-being-too-nice/#disqus_thread

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Ortiz and President Obama’s Selfie, Obamacare, The Breakfast Wars

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

The New York Times: The Founder of ReputationDefender Answers Reader Questions


Last week, The Times published a conversation with Michael Fertik, who founded ReputationDefender, a reputation management company that helps businesses and people play down their negative search results, protect their personal information, gather positive reviews for their businesses and in general buff their images online.

At the time, we asked “You’re the Boss” readers if they had any related questions, situations or strategies they’d like to run by Mr. Fertik. Readers responded with enthusiasm, offering a wide very of specific situations that had been confounding them. Mr. Fertik’s responses are below. The questions and answers have been condensed and edited.

Q.  A savvy friend suggested I do more content marketing. But what exactly is it?

A. It’s curating or creating relevant content for your customers. It generally broadens what qualifies as content you should be publishing. Instead of just saying we’re selling pepperoni slices at discount, you can talk about the pleasure of trying new marinara sauces as a chef or the regional tastes of pizza in Italy. It’s very powerful for small-business owners. Differentiating yourself from other small businesses is often about location, but it’s also the sense of taste and knowledge you bring to the table.

Q. Aside from encouraging customers to leave reviews, what are the most important things I can do to develop a more compelling reputation than my competitors?

A. One very inexpensive thing is to really listen to the feedback. If you have a shipping franchise that also does photocopies, and you’re getting consistent positive feedback on the copiers, that’s good to take note of and put the copiers in the front of your store. Similarly, if you are getting feedback saying you open five minutes late every day? Easiest thing to fix.  Also, you should have a very simple mobile-friendly website. This is who we are, this is where we are, this is what we do, here is a sample of our products or services, and here are photographs of our store or products. People really react to photographs — “Yes, I like the look and feel of this place.”

Q. Sometimes a company becomes entangled in a very uncomfortable public debate that it can’t win. How would you advise a client to minimize the negative impact to its reputation in a sensitive public situation without appearing aloof?

A. If you’re being sympathetically criticized by a sympathetic person, and if the thing you’re being asked to do is low cost and feasible, then it might just be a good thing to do. A lot of companies get customer goodwill by offering refunds or rebates proactively: “Our dessert was late so we’re going to give it to you for free.”

If it becomes more expensive or even destructive, you can’t afford to handicap your company. You can’t kill the village to save it. You might have to just explain the best you can and point to other examples and turn the discussion to the good you are doing.

Q.  How can small businesses better localize their online reputation strategies, i.e. offer a different response to a customer living in Kentucky than to one in Brussels? Are locally targeted approaches more effective?

A.  If you have enough business or potential business in a market, it can certainly make sense to hire a virtual contractor to promote you there. But you have to have a very clear style guide and establish clear parameters to make sure the message stays consistent. You might say, “This sauce goes very well with the fish available in the Gulf” versus “with the fish available in the Pacific.” That makes sense. But you don’t want to say it’s low sodium if it’s not.

Q.  One of my fears is that one of my namesakes will do something bad and people will see it when they Google me. Do you have any advice for the John Smith problem?

A.  First, as a small-business owner, you want to make sure no one is deliberately doing you harm. If they are, you may have to refer it to a law enforcement person or a lawyer. Second, the most powerful thing is to draw the attention to your true acts and who you are. You want people to find you first. That’s a combination of old school search engine optimization and reputation services.

Q.  What advice would you give to someone on the brink of a major career change who has a significant web presence in his/her current profession but needs to shift the landscape?

A. The first thing is to start by changing your home base. Your home page, LinkedIn page, blog, Twitter. When people look you up, they will find your home bases. And your statement about yourself is the first indicator of what you’re doing. The second is to emphasize the new work. If there are pieces of information about your prior career but less about your new one, you want to start to publish content about your new work.

Q. As a mental health professional, I am not allowed to openly discuss my relationship with a patient. What am I to do when a mentally ill patient writes a scathing review when he is off his medications and out of control?

A.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has rules. Sometimes your hands are so tied in the medical field you can’t do anything. This a good place to collect real reviews from real people. Most mental health professionals have someone who is willing to go on the record anonymously and say, “I’ve worked with this person for five years. This person has done a very good job. Thanks for all you’ve done.”

Q. Any suggestions on how to handle an Internet bully who follows you around, comments on articles, trashes Facebook and posts multiple reviews across the web?

A. We call that the dedicated enemy. Unfortunately, it’s way more common than you’d imagine. The Internet is architected to favor the attacker. It takes no time to publish content. Who has time to compete with it? So you really need to consider the heavy artillery of a professional service.

Original article: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/the-founder-of-reputation-com-answers-reader-questions/?_php=true&_type=blogs&action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults%230&version=&url=http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry758%23/fertik/since1851/allresults/1/allauthors/newest/&_r=0

Photo credit: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Bloomberg Surveillance: Turkey and YouTube Plus King and Candy Crush Saga

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

Bloomberg Surveillance: GM’s Recall, MLB Recruitment, Turkey and Social Media

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