Press Room

CEO Michael Fertik explains ‘Femtomanagement’ on Al Jazeera’s ‘Real Money with Ali Velshi’

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

Howard Bragman appears on ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ to discuss Gov. Chris Christie’s viral dance

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

The Telegraph: ‘Paedophile, Slut, Criminal’: How Online Trolls Can Ruin Your Life


Miriam first learned that she’d been called a rape fantasist when her father phoned about some strange Google search results coming up alongside her name.

“It was talking about what might be wrong with me psychologically," she says. “There were accusations that I had fantasies that I want to be raped. It was really disgusting. That was the first thing I found out and I heard about it through my father.”

The comments marked the beginning of five years of intensive abuse. Miriam had defended another woman on an unmoderated forum after anonymous bloggers accused the woman of promiscuity and said her boyfriend was a rapist. Following the comment, Miriam was attacked – by people she doesn't know but believes are strangers – every week for six months, and was the subject of fresh abuse every six months for the following years.

Earlier this week, homeowners in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire were targeted by a blackmail campaign which warned they would be falsely accused of paedophilia unless they paid a ransom in Bitcoins.

And last month, a couple were jailed after labelling an innocent woman a prostitute online and forcing her to move 350 miles away to escape the constant stream of men asking for sex.

The cover of anonymity and frequency of attacks can make online abuse extremely difficult to combat and, as Miriam discovered, those with technical ability now have the means to ruin a stranger's a reputation online.

The scale of abuse

Miriam’s professors and employers were named in abusive posts, her relatives had their contact details published online, and her attackers created a fake URL to look as though she’d written a racist blog post.

“A lot of it was sexual. Accusations that I have STDs, that I’m promiscuous. There was this odd combination of: 'She’s fat and ugly and she’s a promiscuous diseased slut,'" she says.

Miriam became an “emotional wreck” as a result of the abuse. She wouldn’t give out her last name and became scared of dating.

“I was very ashamed. For a long time I believed that I had done something that had brought this on and it made it very hard to talk about," she says. “Worst case scenario, I didn’t want anybody to think that that was true and take it as some sort of permission to take advantage of me, or think that I wanted these things to happen.”

She would spend several hours each night trying to track the abuse and asking websites to take down the posts. While some did so quickly, other unmoderated forums took months to respond or refused to remove the messages, so the accusations remained in her Google search results.

Miriam says Google would only remove information with a court order, and considered her attacks an interpersonal dispute.

“The recommendation is to talk to the person who posted them. And of course, I don’t know who posted this so I have no recourse there. I did eventually retain a lawyer but quite frankly there was essentially nothing I could do.”

Last month, the European Union’s top court ruled that Google must delete personal information about individuals upon request, though it remains to be seen how much the ruling will help people like Miriam.

Meanwhile, the police were sympathetic, but also struggled to help in the face of her attacker’s technical ability.

“Whoever was posting these knows what they’re doing and was using proxy IP addresses. Once the IP was traced to Europe, police told me it was no longer in their jurisdiction and they couldn’t do anything," she says,

Miriam now has a paragraph in her cover letter explaining the posts and has set up several websites to try and push down the abusive messages on Google search results.

“I always assumed I wasn’t an important enough person for this to happen to," she says.

Reputation management – how to respond

In response to the growing problem of online reputation trashing, Michael Fertik founded ReputationDefender to help individuals protect and shape their profile online. He says that he’s seen every kind of abuse, from revenge porn to impersonation.

“Impersonation can be very nasty because they can make trouble in your name,” he says. “One of the worst things I’ve seen is a woman who very cleverly attacked herself in the name of her ex partner. She then reported it and it was so convincing and so vicious that it took him two years to unwind the fact that it wasn’t he that was doing it.”

And although the effects can be devastating, Michael says it takes minimal technical skills to create abusive search results that appear prominently online. ReputationDefender won’t try to delete abusive messages, but counters them by creating authentic posts to help push down the false rumours on search results.

Ken Padgett learned this technique himself after he suffered 10 years of abuse when he intervened in an argument online.

He was labelled a drug addict, an ex convict and a paedophile, and his attacker wrote to his neighbours and employer.

Ken responded to the abusive comments with his own websites and search engine optimisation, so that the negative posts would no longer be at the top of search results. But the best – and most effective – course of action, he says, is to stay out of online debates.

“Don’t argue with people online. There are nut cases who might come after you just for saying something they don’t like," he adds. “It’s not worth it.”


Original article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10897474/Paedophile-slut-criminal-how-trolls-can-ruin-your-life.html

Photo credit: Getty Images, via The Telegraph


Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: OJ Simpson trial anniversary, Eric Cantor and Hillary Clinton

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

Michael Fertik explains what the World Cup means for Brazil on Bloomberg TV’s ‘The Pulse’

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 discusses response on social media to Bergdahl’s release

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: Edward Snowden, Michelle Obama and #YesAllWomen

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

World Economic Forum: Why the EU Court Got the Decision Right


In a decision that surprised much of the world, the European Court of Justice ruled earlier this month that individuals may now petition Google to remove information about themselves that shows up in search results. The so-called “right to be forgotten” is a long overdue measure to support human dignity on the internet.

The prevailing reaction, though, has been alarmist – negative editorials abound about the constraint of online freedom, the muzzling of speech and the threat of a sanitized Orwellian future.

This Sturm-und-Drang is a kneejerk response that lacks serious reflection and intellectual precision. We must first step back and ask ourselves why so many of us draw a straight line from Google to digital free speech. They are surely not the same, and to argue so is to ignore an essential fact: Google is a machine. It is a very good mechanism for uncovering objective content – and also subjective content.

Yet, as with all search engines, Google has its flaws. One of these is the way it displays outdated, one-sided and often inaccurate material about people, a reductionism that can harm and humiliate them disproportionately, both professionally and privately. (Full disclosure here: the company I founded, ReputationDefender, works to help people protect their online identity). Prior to this decision by the European Court, there was next to nothing an average person could do to change that.

Providing an option to de-index specific websites is not subverting online freedom or censorship – it’s a righting of the scales. The decision does not remove content, merely the most visible conduit to the content, the links. There can be no censorship without the wholesale scrubbing of the internet: the removal of not just the paths to content but the actual websites themselves. A determined person or researcher could still locate the information they seek, whether it’s in an online news archive or in the digital proceedings of a specific court. The ruling leaves this firmly in place.

The court also correctly sought to allay reasonable fears about the undue sanitization of the internet through the inclusion of a key exception: that content in the public interest should remain visible in search results. That’s a laudable, and essential, aspect of this decision. There are those public figures – politicians, historical figures, persons of influence – whose lives and deeds are relevant to our current understanding and future collective memory. There are also those people and organizations whose criminal acts or major civil misdeeds are such that they potentially pose a risk to the common good – and they too should be visible.

It’s clear that the European Union is much more assertive when it comes to shaping the boundaries of technology. For the law to keep pace with the exponential leaps and bounds of technology is a near-impossible task. Yet regulators must attempt to create legal remedies that are flexible enough to be applied to future iterations of technology and sharp enough to have meaning.

The EU has done so with net neutrality, voting in favour of tough rules that ensure a free and unencumbered internet. With this ruling, it has done so again in a great and lasting acknowledgement of privacy as a human right, the notion that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy … nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation”.

I’m an American and my country tends – rightly, in my view – to exercise extreme caution in regard to measures that may affect our most precious freedoms, particularly the constitution’s First Amendment. Yet we live in a diverse world, where even countries that generally agree on freedoms have reasonable differences as to the shape and scope of those freedoms. I hope the court’s ruling continues to generate broader robust discussion.

Author: Michael Fertik is the founder of ReputationDefender.

Image: People wear masks during the “Freiheit Statt Angst” (Freedom instead of Fear) protest calling for the protection of digital data privacy in Berlin, September 10, 2011.REUTERS/Thomas Peter 

 Original article: http://forumblog.org/2014/05/eu-right-back-right-online-privacy/

San Jose Mercury News: You Have the Right to be Forgotten


The European Court of Justice issued a surprise ruling May 13 that raised some eyebrows — and a stink — on both sides of the pond.

Individuals in Europe may now petition Google, and other search engines with revenue in the European Union, to remove some third-party links, not the content itself, that surface in search results about them.

Many reacted with dark predictions of a jackbooted, Stalinist future. "This overreaching judgment is far more likely to aid the powerful in attempts to rewrite history," said The Guardian. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales labeled the ruling "one of the most wide-sweeping Internet censorship rulings that I've ever seen." Here at home, The New York Times editorial board concluded its op-ed noting that, "lawmakers should not create a right so powerful that it could limit press freedoms or allow individuals to demand that lawful information in a news archive be hidden."

Laudable words — but they're arguments for a different debate.

This is not about free speech — but the reaction is a very good indicator of the false equivalency we've all bought into: Google equals the First Amendment. Let's be clear: Google is an excellent machine, arguably the finest in the world today. But it's not free speech. It is a computational engine — and even very, very good computers are as fallible as the people who make them.

Google surfaces content based on its famously secret algorithm. Contrast that with a news outlet like this one, for which journalists must interview sources, include balanced perspective, answer to editorial oversight, etc. When journalists represent something unfairly or incorrectly, they must make public corrections. Not so with Google. But real human beings, with feelings and families and opportunities and achievements, are behind the names we search. If what turns up is something embarrassing, unfounded, obsolete or untrue (think an ex's blog or revenge porn), then our opinions take shape based on faulty data. That's wrong — and until last week, you could not effectively appeal this data's inclusion.

Critics have said that the law can be misused. That's true — but it's also the case for laws that enable gun ownership, regulate banks and govern our tax code. Show me a law that does not carry some risk of misuse and I'll show you a law that does absolutely nothing and benefits no one. As "proof" of the decision's flaws, people have pointed out that pedophiles and politicians have already begun petitioning Google to make negative content disappear. But the ruling includes a massive exception for content that's in the public interest, which I wholeheartedly support. Such an exception should, I believe, include public figures like politicians and people who pose a threat to the common good, such as criminals.

Uncharted waters are tricky. The ruling has set new parameters but its practical shape is as yet unknown. It will take significant time and effort for the relevant EU data protection authorities, working with Google and the other major search engines, to determine its operationalization. There's no question, however, that it can be done.

Google now has a very efficient process for removing reported copyright infringement — that, too, was once new and untested. It's fair to believe that the search engine giant can implement a similarly smooth and orderly procedure for reviewing and processing opt-out requests in accordance with the law.

What's really at stake here is power: whether we believe that we, in this digital age where information lasts forever, should have some measure of agency or if we should cede our power entirely to the machine.

I'm with the court: Human dignity is important, precious and deserves legal standing.

Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of ReputationDefender. He wrote this article for this newspaper.

Original article: http://www.mercurynews.com/News/ci_25817399/Michael-Fertik:-You-have-the-right

Jansing & Co’s Reputation Report: Howard Bragman on Hillary Clinton, McDonald’s mascot, Chipotle’s anti-gun policy

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