Brand.com knows the value of brands. That’s why it spent a US dollar amount reported to be in the six figures to change its own name from “Reputation Changer” to “Brand.com.” It expects its clients will spend just as happily to safeguard their online reputations.
The company promises it can “permanently erase misleading content from Google, Yahoo and Bing’s search algorithms” using what it calls “the world’s first systematic program for removing slanderous web pages from popular search engine indexes.” Starting at $7,500 and rising depending on various factors such as the number of links to be removed, the fee is what Mike Zammuto, the company’s president, calls an “investment.”
Here’s how the service works. First, the company verifies that information about a client online is indeed false. Then it gets a court judgement finding the page in question libelous. With that in hand, it can ask search engines to remove the link from their results. The difference between Brand.com and its rivals such as Reputation.com or Brandyourself.com, Zammuto says, is that it is able to handle these requests at a scale and speed so it can “serve the masses,” though he is vague on the details.
The online-reputation-management industry is a thriving one. By one estimate, the market will grow from $1.6 billion in 2011 to $5 billion by 2015. (Brand.com says its revenue is doubling every few months, though it offered no real numbers.) But such services do not themselves have the best reputation, thanks to some extortionate practices and a tendency to overstate their abilities. It doesn’t help when they’re vague about how their own businesses work.
There’s also the question of whether they infringe on free speech. Zammuto argues that “Google does not want false, libelous information appearing” in its results. For other services his company provides, such as massaging your Wikipedia page, he says, “Brand.com helps ensure that information on Wikipedia is accurate, not false or defamatory. This is in line with the best practice guidelines of Wikipedia.” As with web pages removed for copyright reasons, those de-listed thanks to Brand.com’s efforts can be found at Chilling Effects, a repository of legal requests to delete web results.
Still, there is one flaw in the plan. A search result needs to be libelous for any of this to work. There are plenty of cases where search results are unflattering, yet accurate. In that case, says Zamutto, Brand.com will “suppress it by populating [results] with positive information that is authoritative and truthful.” It’s more effective than you might think: fewer than one in 10 people ever go beyond the first page of Google results.