Safeguarding Your Reputation: What High Net Worth Families Need to Know
By Frank Rodman, TorchStone President
The ever-expanding use of digital and social media, and the lack of U.S. laws governing Internet speech have made reputational risk a real concern for many Americans.
If you are high net worth or high profile, you face special challenges. You are closely studied. You have little privacy. You can be the subject of articles, blog posts, and Twitter conversations on topics ranging from your appearance and behavior to other more personal aspects of your life. If you are influential within your private sphere or the greater community, anonymous detractors can overwhelm the Internet with inaccurate content if they oppose your views or would somehow benefit from diminishing your credibility.
No one is immune to becoming a target of inappropriate, invasive and unwanted Internet commentary, but high net worth individuals and their families are particularly attractive targets for anonymous “trolls,” criminals, and private citizens online who may target them. Such risks have made reputation management of interest to many of TorchStone’s clients.
Three issues illustrate why high net worth individuals are increasingly conducting deep-search intelligence on the Internet to learn just how exposed their reputations, their capital, and their personal data are online.
One: No “Right to be Forgotten” Law in the U.S.
While Europe now has the “Right to be Forgotten,” which separates individuals from negative search results about them upon request, we have no such protection here in the United States. Instead, we have the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which primarily protects website owners from the liability associated with what is said about any individual online.
Two: Defamation is hard to prove online
When you, your family members or your organization are the focus of inappropriate and unwanted Internet conversations, it can be difficult or even impossible to find out who is actually responsible for it. Due to the CDA, website operators have legal immunity over what is said and posted on their sites and will rarely respond to requests for an anonymous poster’s identity or even the removal of inaccurate information (that is, unless it is in the form of a legal subpoena or court order). These are just some of the complex issues surrounding Internet defamation cases.
Three: “Being invisible” online doesn’t work
Many high net worth individuals deliberately aim to keep a low profile on the Internet, but that too is a risk. When you do not “own your name” online—as in, possess high-ranking entries and profiles on Google, however understated—you have no “digital defense.” That means there is nothing blocking third-party content from rising to the tops of Google searches about you—and staying there.
Google’s goal is to publish the most accurate, the most informative, and the most useful information on the Internet. To achieve that, online “bots” scour the Internet to pull up every piece of relevant information every time someone conducts a search. If you do not intentionally place content online about you—even basic entries like a LinkedIn profile, which nearly always shows up on the first page of a Google search—you have no control over what Google and other search engines unearth about you and place on the first page of your search results. Without that “digital defense,” all of that material shows up when people Google you. Whether positive, negative, or neutral, your results are often a mélange of media articles, business profiles, and an array of material published by third parties.
It is challenging to create a “digital defense” when you would prefer to have nothing about you online. But when you do have one in place, you are less vulnerable to the likelihood that any third-party content will take up the coveted “first page” space and help define you online, whether you like it or not.
Examples of online reputational damage
When damaging information appears about you online, it can take many forms. Examples include:
- Websites registered in your name (which anyone can purchase) that are used to publish “fake news”
- Accusatory or subjective blog posts, Facebook posts, and tweets about you
- Images of your home and address posted on Internet forums
When such information dominates the first page or two of a Google search about you, it can detract from your professional image, affect your business dealings, and even impact your personal life.
Such material can come from surprising sources. For example, there are approximately 20 or more “people search” databases that collect and republish personal data about us from data brokers. The data—our ages, family members’ names, addresses, our phone numbers—is scraped from driver’s license bureaus, county courthouses, real estate ownership records, and dozens of other sources. Currently, there are no online privacy laws in the United States protecting this data. When criminals search for the address of your home, for instance, they can readily find it on such data or aggregator sites, along with satellite pictures, maps with directions, and property value.
Is your online persona safe?
Helping clients identify and mitigate (or remove, if possible) online information about them and their families inspired us to create customized reputation risk reports. These tailored reports help clients identify their reputational and privacy vulnerabilities in the digital space and feature:
- An analysis of content available online about them or their organization including the identification of potential red flags and steps to proactively mitigate risks or correct areas in need of repair.
- An assessment of the tone of the content and the credibility of content sources that are affecting the companies brand.
- An evaluation of the availability of personal information, like home address and phone number, and if that availability places the client’s personal security at risk.
Our reports provide data-based analysis to inform decisions, including whether to act on our recommendations and mitigate the potential risks we identify. In addition to these reports, we provide clients with insights into their children’s online profiles and social media activities, and if those activities could ultimately place them at a disadvantage.
Frank Rodman is a security executive with over twenty-five years of qualitative experience building pragmatic security solutions. He has worked with diplomats, business leaders, and ultra-high net worth families to develop sophisticated strategies to avoid risk.
Please visit TorchStone’s Team page to learn more about Frank E. Rodman.
To learn more about our reputation risk reports and how they can help make families safer both online and off, please contact us.