Google has entered the slowly burgeoning field of so-called "online identity protection" with a new "Me on Google" service that leverages the seldom-used Google Profile feature that's been in place for some time.
Color me skeptical. Twice.
First, I'm skeptical of the entire field of reputation management. If the Internet remains more akin to the Wild American West than to modern "civilized" cities, reputation management is kind of like saying you could order the town gossip to stop talking about you and have the desired outcome. If someone posts a message about you anywhere on the Internet and you find out about it (not likely unless you're famous or have a friend who's a Net junkie), the most you can do is ask the poster politely to remove the inflammatory or erroneous message. Forcing them to do so would be nigh impossible unless you are a lawyer or have enough money to hire one to chase down the perp (I like that word; I watch too much detective TV).
In the story today, Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, admits that the field in which his company specializes is pretty limited in what can be done to repair a broken reputation. (Identity protection, on the other hand, offers some promise and Reputation.com along with a handful of other firms can help you sort out the best way to prevent a bad image in the first place.) There are a lot of reasons for this but all of them have their roots in the very nature of the Internet, which was designed to route around censorship, even well-intentioned censorship.
Second, I'm skeptical Google can really help with this problem at all. The new service is apparently built around Google Alerts, which are widely acknowledged to be far less than comprehensive and which are so limited by the inability of search in general to hone in on the right version of a term that they can be pretty useless.
For example, I've had a Google Alert on my name for months. Every day I get an alert with anywhere from one to a dozen mentions of "Dan Shafer" on the Net. I have watched fairly carefully and results are so spotty as to be useless. If I know about a post with my name and I monitor the Alert for even several days afterward, it very often fails to make an appearance. On the other hand, my name isn't as uncommon as I once thought. I share it with a young musician, a college professor, a city official in New York, and probably dozens of others. My Google Alert isn't smart enough to figure out that I only want to see alerts with my identity associated. I've tried refining the search term but even when it got to 250+ characters in length, it was still letting the "other" Dan Shafers through.
Oh, and I should say that these remarks are all based on news reports, not personal experience of "Me on Google," which, as far as I can tell at least, hasn't been turned on in my little corner of the gWorld.