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Reputation Defenders Go Overboard

In Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End one of the main characters, Robert Gu, searches Google for information about someone. The results display simple information about the person’s career and when she died but “the details were a cloud of contradiction, some agree with Bob told him, some not. It was this damn Friends of Privacy.  It was hard to imagine such villains, doing their best to undermine what he could find on the net.  A ‘vandal charity was what they call themselves.”

Vinge’s novel takes place in 2025 in San Diego, California.  Though Vinge writes science fiction, his work incorporates elements of technology and behaviors already present today. In fact groups similar to the Friends of Privacy currently operate to eliminate embarrassing information from the Internet.  Unlike Vinge’s group which strives to muddy the information pool, these groups have been praised for removing snippy comments and dubious claims about people or organizations. Now, however, Declan McCullagh reports that some reputation defending services are engaged in aggressive and dubious business practices to achieve their goals so much so that a federal judge has granted a restraining order against some of these companies and found that one of them engaged in libel in their efforts to clean up the Internet. The article quotes from one service’s e-mails: “No matter where you go, we will cause you a problem. Your life is in danger until you comply with our demands. This is your last warning.”

Vinge’s idea of a vandal charity might offend those who believe there is some way to achieve perfect information, but given the vast quantities of information on the Internet and the way in which some take the information as gospel, a group that highlights the need for skepticism about Internet information is a fun literary device. Unfortunately, in the real world it seems that the more pernicious version of such activity is what we have.

For those interested on how not to write a cease and desist letter (hint: lines such as “You will soon be beaten to a pulp and pounced into the ground six feet under with a baseball bat and sleg (sic) hammer.” are to be avoided) Declan’s article has the text of messages.

2 thoughts on “Reputation Defenders Go Overboard”

  1. Perhaps everyone now wants a celebrity-style image-management system. see, e.g.,,,25351-2641785,00.html

    ““Seemingly every single person in the country”, Halpern says, is “lining up to become famous.” They have to line up, because the way is clogged.”

    It could lead to some funny habits:

    “It is often noted that celebrities refer to themselves in the first-person plural. “For two years,” Garth Brooks recently told the Independent, “we couldn’t find anything that we wanted to be an actor in.” Other famous people have cultivated the habit of referring to themselves in the third-person singular: “I’ve been very careful that Deborah Norville does the right thing”, the TV personality Deborah Norville told the Seattle Times last year; “Deborah has been pretty clever about managing her associations”. The actor Richard Dreyfuss uses both the first-person plural and the third-person singular (possibly, one day, he will start referring to himself as “they”).”

  2. That reminds me of the loan-out practice within the entertainment industry. When hiring an actor, one goes through a coporation, owned by the “talent,” to hire the talent. The idea being to gain corporate protections for the individual. Of course it starts to mirror the odd third person references you mention.

    It also reminds me of something that perhaps you posted regarding many people’s belief that they will be famous. That delusion reminds me of another Frank, Frank Zappa, and his stance on love songs:

    “I detest ‘love lyrics’. I think one of the causes of the bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on ‘love lyrics.'”


    “You’re a young kid and you hear all those ‘love lyrics,’ right? Your parents aren’t telling the truth about love, and you can’t really learn about it in school. You’re getting the bulk of your ‘behavior norms’ mapped out for you in the lyrics to some dumb fucking love song. It’s a subconscious training that creates a desire for an imaginary situation which will never exist for you. People who buy into that mythology go through life feeling that they got cheated or something.”

    Although Zappa may have gone a bit overboard, I think the same view applies to current notions of fame.

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