Experts Speak Out About Online Privacy

Lora Bentley
Slide Show

Check out highlights from Lora's poll of industry experts on the topic of online security.

You'd think I've written so much about online privacy I'd be tired of it. And frankly, for a split-second every now and then, I am. But it's important, and it's interesting, so I press on.


For two days this week, The New York Times' Bits blog has published online privacy questions from readers and the corresponding answers, crafted by either ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik or University of Colorado law professor Paul Ohm. Most of the questions come from the user's point of view, understandably, but that doesn't mean employers who make use of social networks and the like can't learn from the answers.


For example, one reader, a medical student applying for residency, wanted to know how to influence the order in which search results appear in the likely event that prospective employers run a Google search on his or her name. Noting that the first page of results from a search of someone's name is essentially that person's online resume, Fertik offered this advice for moving stronger content up the list:

Try building more links to the most relevant content that you would like residency directors to see. In many cases, this will help bring that information to the top of a search. Or ask friends to link to the stronger content from their blogs and Twitter accounts.

That same approach should work for businesses trying to improve their online image as well. Fertik pointed to recent studies showing that 70 percent of online searchers never move past the first page of results, so it's important to ensure that what shows up there represents the company in the way it wants to be seen.


Another reader question serves as a cautionary note to those who use Internet searches as "preliminary screens" for job applicants, however. He or she sued a former employer several years ago, and a high-profile magazine covered the story, casting this reader in a very negative light. Since the magazine is well-known, guess what dominates the reader's online resume? The negative story. Again, Fertik advised the reader to beef up the resume, so to speak, and build links to more positive content by creating profiles on such sites as LinkedIn.


But I would also suggest that employers would do well to look beyond that first page of results, and to not be too quick to take what you find on the first page at face value. If the reference to your prospective employee in a particular piece of content gives you pause and you can legally do so, ask for him or her to explain it. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.


Finally, Ohm also addressed the prospect of stronger laws protecting online privacy. He indicates that such laws will most likely come from individual states than from the federal government, and that they are most often adopted after a particularly disturbing privacy violation happens. He explained:

When someone leaked Judge Robert Bork's video rental records, Congress enacted the Video Privacy Protection Act. When a stalker tracked down and killed the actress Rebecca Schaeffer using D.M.V. records, Congress passed the Driver's Privacy Protection Act.

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