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Reputation Defender: Online personal data coming from many sources

Michael Fertik, chief executive of Reputation Defender, says we aren't concerned enough about privacy online. And, he added, the focus of regulators and lawmakers about tools online to deal with the collection of personal data (buttons for opting in or opting out of data collection) misses the point.

So much information is being gathered about consumers that they aren’t even feeding into those information banks, he said.

“We have to stop thinking of this as opt-in and opt-out,” he said. “That is a trope about choice and the beauty of freedom to elect into something. But you are opted-in already with information that isn’t stuff you put in.”

For instance, in a survey released by Microsoft, 40 percent of hiring managers said their decision to hire someone was influenced by text written about the candidate online by colleagues and work acquaintances. The same survey, released Thursday, showed that 70 percent of those managers said they did not hire someone because of information they found about the candidate online.

“It’s associated branding -- if you are even associated with people who adhered to a certain lifestyle that someone doesn’t like, that could hurt you,” Fertik said.

His company, for a monthly fee, works with online advertisers and marketers to erase a customer’s data from their databases. Fertik was in Washington speaking at a conference and dropped by The Post to chat about online privacy.

But instead of recoiling, users should think of the Web and all the data that is being collected from their digital footprints as opportunities, the 31-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur said. He said users should think of social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as opportunities to friend people who will reflect well on them.

By Cecilia Kang  |  January 29, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
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