How Does the Internet Rate You?

Her profile doesn't include anything especially damaging, but Stephanie would rather it didn't exist at all.

Internet Already Allows an 'Excess of Opinion'

"I was very surprised because the picture used is from a few years ago and not online that I know of," said Stephanie, who asked to keep her last name confidential. "I would like to be taken off and have written e-mails to the site asking how I got there and how I could be removed. None of these e-mails were responded to."

Julia Allison, 28, a New York columnist and media personality, had even stronger words for the site. About a month ago, she, too, learned that a PersonRatings profile had been created without her knowledge.

"How is it useful? Who knows who's rating? How does it have value?" she asked. "It is asking for trouble."

She said she's sure the founder had good intentions but emphasized that the Internet already supports a culture that allows an "excess of opinion" and a dearth of fact-checking.

PersonRatings Not First Site to Solicit Reviews, Comments

Allison said because she is an "Internet celebrity," sites like PersonRatings can't harm her too much. There's already so much information online about her -- good and bad -- that a few more comments and ratings don't make much of a dent.

But, for the average person, she said, a few nasty comments can make a great deal of difference.

"No one is universally liked," she continued. "And the fact is, the Internet is a place for ad hominem attacks. That's bad, but that's the truth."

Michael Fertik, founder of online reputation management and privacy company, said other people-rating and commenting sites that have preceded PersonRatings, like the now shuttered JuicyCampus, have not set a high standard.

"Normally, no good comes from these sites. They become places of abuse," he said. "I hope this doesn't happen to it."

Noting that PersonRatings doesn't monitor comments or require users to register with the site, he added, "the likelihood for insane negativity is maximized, which destroys the credibility of the site long-term."

Not All Rating Sites Inspire Negativity

But Stamper said his site and others that host comments are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Although he's not washing his hands of lying and insult-flinging, he said he doesn't have control over the behavior of others.

"The online world is like the offline world. People do good things and bad things. But we don't clamp down on basic freedoms," he said. "It's a messier society. And there's a lot of room in our society to be hurt and hurt others. But we have the best system."

Additionally, some professional rating sites say that though many comments are negative, not all of them are. For example, on the site RateMyProfessors, which has received 8 million opinions for 1 million professors, it says that 65 percent of the comments are positive.

And though the idea of openly and anonymously reviewing people may sound foreign, online speech experts emphasize that the concept is not new at all.

"Just because it takes place in an electronic forum, it's nothing new," said Brock Meeks, a spokesman for the Center for Democracy and Technology. "I have no control over what someone writes about me on a bathroom stall or on a crumpled piece of paper in the supermarket.

"Likewise, I have no control over what someone says about me in cyberspace," he said. "That's nothing new. We live in a society where speech is free and open and something that we protect. And so we take the good with the bad."

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