How the rich protect their online identity

google reputation control

You can't always control what's said about you on the Internet. But with enough money, you can influence what comes up in a search.

A few companies promise to control your message online, or eliminate a bit of scandal or bad press — for a price.

"We can remove something that shouldn't be there," said Chris Dinota, the CEO and founder of Solvera Group.

The cost for that service? Between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the project, plus a monthly maintenance cost.

While many less expensive services work to move negative content down and positive content up, Solvera will try to remove the negative links altogether and manage the search results.

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Dinota's company, which performs background checks and will not work with clients whose negative reviews prove to be accurate, will "de-index" negative links, removing them from the search results of Google, Yahoo and Bing.

This sometimes involves legal battles to get content removed, using a court order alleging something like defamation or slander. In the best case scenario, that will force the publisher to remove the content. The company also has other methods of removal, but said those are proprietary.

Dinota said rendering a link unsearchable is more effective than the more common practice of online reputation control — piling good content on top of bad in order to suppress the negative information.

"A lot of our clients have been down the road of suppression," he said. "They have come to us almost out of desperation."

Many are desperate because a negative link can have devastating effects on an individual, or the bottom line. He described a company that made $10 million to 15 million in revenue, but "because of a link at the top they literally lost $1 million in revenue," he said.

Google doesn't necessarily want people to be able to suppress or control content, so the search engine is constantly changing its algorithm. "What may work for six months tends to pop back up randomly," said Dinota.

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This week, the European Union's highest court ruled that Google must allow its European users the ability to delete certain links about themselves.

Dinota called the ruling "fantastic," and said it will pave the way for similar legal arguments in the United States. "There are even now, valid legal strategies which Solvera has implemented with great success to the benefit of our clients, but this international ruling will hopefully add momentum to the legal debate ongoing in U.S. courts," he said.

The first page of a search is valuable real estate since about 80% of people don't click past it, according to Andy Beal, author of "Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation." He calls Google "sentiment agnostic" because the site doesn't care if content is positive, negative or neutral.

"It just pulls what's relevant," Beal said.

Why your privacy is gone forever
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Removal is the best way to make sure the content won't pop up again — or that users won't start searching for it. He says even buried negative content can still attract plenty of attention once someone spots it. "If they find smoke," Beal said, "they'll look for the fire."

But not everyone can shell out five — or six — figures to protect their reputation and remove nasty online content.

BrandYourself, another online reputation management company, works with both well-heeled clients and those of more modest means. The company offers a free tool for customers wanting to go it alone, or concierge services that come with a dedicated "reputation specialist" for each client. The concierge service is offered as a one year contract at a cost of $299 per month.

"Wealthy and higher profile people tend to run into issues more than the average person," said Patrick Ambron, co-founder of BrandYourself.

Ambron doesn't think trying to eliminate stories as they pop up is the answer, and instead works with clients to build up more positive content.

"The idea you can be invisible is a myth," Ambron said. "All it takes is somebody else to write about you."

And for those who would rather stay in the shadows, Ambron has a message: "If they don't define themselves on the web, they're going to be defined by someone else."

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