June 17, 2011 -- Michael Fertik, CEO of Repuation.com, said he was excited to find more than 100 emails in his inbox Thursday about a new Google tool aiming to help people take control of their online identity.
"The biggest thing [Google] could do is validate the space, which is really cool," said Fertik, whose company sells technology for managing online reputations.
Located in your Google dashboard, the tool "Me on the Web" uses Google alerts to send notifications whenever someone has posted specific information about you online.
"If you haven't set up alerts yet, Me on the Web makes it even easier to do so and even automatically suggests some search terms you may want to monitor," product manager Andreas Tuerk wrote in Google's public policy blog. "This is just one of our first steps in continuing to explore ways to help make managing your identity online simpler."
The only problem, Fertik said, is that Google alerts are "notoriously non-comprehensive."
Although Google alerts can help you find where your personal information ended up, actually removing that information from the Web is much trickier.
If you find your information on a website you don't own, Google advises contacting the webmaster to ask that it be removed from the server or blocked from being included in the Google index. That way, when Google crawls the website, Google's search results will no longer display your information. To expedite the process, you can use the Google URL removal request tool -- but again, that is only effective if the information has already been removed or blocked by the webmaster.
"Contact the webmaster? That's what we said in 2006," said Fertik, admittedly disappointed that Google, a company filled with "technology geniuses," hadn't come up with something more advanced.
"You can always ask people to take something offline. ... That doesn't mean it's going to happen," said Joe Stewart, director of malware research for Dell SecureWorks, a global provider of information security services. "There's no magic solution."
Indeed, the road to online reputation management is becoming increasingly complex. Several companies have sprung up in the past decade to help solve the problem.
Managing Personal Information Online: When You Can't Subtract, Add
In addition to removing information, Google recommends adding information that you want people to find when they search for your name. The new Google reputation tool suggests creating a Google profile, which is "visible to anyone on the Web, and anyone with your email address can discover it."
The profile allows you to select the information you want to display about yourself, similar to the networking website LinkedIn. You can include pictures, display contact information and link to other websites about you.
"Me on the Web" is really only the beginning for Google as it ventures into online reputation management.
There's "a healthy conversation happening inside of Google," Fertik said, and he expects to hear more from them in coming years.