RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And on Wednesdays we focus on the workplace. Today, keeping your indiscretions private. In the age of Google and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, people's most embarrassing details are increasingly out there for the world to see. And in some cases, it's effecting their ability to land a job.
In a recent survey, one in ten hiring managers said they rejected candidates because of entries they found on the Net. Now several startups are offering to help manage their online identities and scrub embarrassing information. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
Mr. MICHAEL FERTIK (Owner, ReputationDefender.com): Our motto is search and destroy.
FRANK LANGFITT: That's Michael Fertik. A few weeks ago he launched a company called ReputationDefender.com. For a small fee, he digs through clients' Internet profiles and then shows them how they appear online. If clients see something they don't like, Reputation Defender will contact whoever controls the Web page and urge them to delete the material. And if they resist, Fertik, a Harvard law grad, says his company is ready to use attorneys.
Mr. FERTIK: This is a sort of a PR service for the everyday person, right. I mean celebrities have been using PR agencies at the cost of thousands and thousands of dollars a month for decades. And now we can do that for every person for as little as, less than $10 a month.
LANGFITT: Fertik says he got the idea for his business from news stories.
Mr. FERTIK: College kids who were getting denied jobs after college because of content about them on the Internet. You know, frat pictures that they have taken or someone took of them three years ago doing a keg stand when they were 19. This stuff can haunt you for many years.
LANGFITT: Another identity management firm is Naymz, co-founded by entrepreneur Tom Drugan. One of the company's early clients was Mark Zebo(ph), a Chicago dentist. He was just 28 and sensitive about appearing too young to his patients. But if patients Googled him, the first thing they found was a page with a link to college drinking pictures.
Mr. MARK ZEBO (Dentist): A couple of buddies and I sitting at a, you know, at a bar with a table full of empty beers in front of us. And I just realized at that time, when people would come in and say, oh I saw a picture of you. You know, it's just not the idea I wanted out there and the image I wanted out there.
LANGFITT: Naymz created an official Web page for Zebo. It also bought ad space to make sure his profile appeared on the first page of popular search engines. For that Zebo pays $4.95 a month. Naymz also advised Zebo on how to contact the site with the bar pictures and get them taken down.
Mr. ZEBO: I know that some people, they spend a lot of time on the Internet and they're really comfortable with blogs, everything. But I personally, I don't have the time and I don't have the know-how to do it at this point.
LANGFITT: Even when you delete images from the Web, they sometimes live on in other search engine files. Drugan says that's what happened to a college student who contacted Naymz. She was cleaning up her personal Web page in preparation for a job search. But she couldn't completely get rid of a Halloween picture. Drugan describes the image:
Mr. TOM DRUGAN (Co-Founder, Naymz): She had a big curly wig on, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and a very low-cut tight shirt on that the word whore was written across the front. And if you typed in her name in Google Images, it actually came up on the first page of results.
LANGFITT: Drugan showed her how to clear out that Google page and within a few weeks, the image was history. Drugan tells clients that if they can't get rid of negative material, they can obscure it.
Mr. DRUGAN: Well, there's certain tactics we call - it's called flooding the search engine. So what we recommend to people is to go out there and create a lot of positive and accurate information about yourself. So maybe you can go out and create a blog or create a MySpace page. And the more positive contents you have about yourself, the more likely that's going to be pushed to the top of Google and the other search engines, and then push that other information down to the second or third page, where very few search engine users get to.
LANGFITT: That's probably a good idea because recruiters seem to be poking around. A survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers by Career Builder, the Internet job site, found that one in four use search engines to screen candidates.
David Perry does and so do all his colleagues. Perry's an executive recruiter. He recalls striking digital dirt while checking someone for a job as a chief financial officer.
Mr. DAVID PERRY (Executive Recruiter): One particular candidate we found out had a gambling problem. We actually found it out and tracked him back and tracked his profile back to an online gambling site on the Web. Now you got to ask yourself what that's got to do with his job? Well, you know, nothing probably. But this is a billion-dollar corporation - actually a multibillion-dollar corporation - that we were putting a chief financial officer into, and we just didn't think it was appropriate.
LANGFITT: It's too early to know whether identity management firms will attract many clients. After five months, Naymz has 3,000 users but only 150 for its paid premium service. But Perry thinks that with so many recruiters vetting people on the Internet, job candidates either need to background themselves or hire someone else to.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You can find tips on how to manage your online identity at npr.org.
Next Wednesday, we'll examine how recruiters use the Internet and social networking sites to find candidates, and how job-seekers can market themselves online.