The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an important business case that could change the way public information gets broadcast online.
The case involves Spokeo, a Pasadena, California tech company that aggregates public records and posts that information online. The plaintiff, named Thomas Robins, reportedly an unemployed man seeking work, claims his reputation was damaged by allegedly incorrect information disseminated by the company. Robins, whose location has been identified solely as being in Virginia, alleges Spokeo hurt him by misrepresenting details of his life, including his age and income. More specifically, the case revolves around whether Spokeo violated Robins' rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires companies to correct inaccurate information in credit reports.
So what do you do if you spot inaccuracies online? Hopefully, you won't need to head to the Supreme Court to remedy your situation. Instead, try these three options:
1. Monitor your name and brand.
While that's no easy feat in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and TripAdvisor, you have to monitor complaints against your company and have responses ready to go the same day, says Neal Hartman, a senior lecturer and head of the managerial communications group at MIT Sloan School of Management. Sometimes that means having a good old fashioned press release to distribute, but today it also means preparing a statement for the company website or blog.
And you might even hire someone or some company to keep an eye out for you. Firms like BrandYourself and Inc. 5000 company Reputation Management Conusultants, for instance, offer to monitor or clean up your personal online information. The cost of the serivces can run the gamut, from free to hundreds of dollars per month. "Companies have concerns about their reputations, and they would be smart to have someone routinely monitor what is going up on social media and being said about them online," Hartman says.
2. Call the company when you spot errors.
Besides Spokeo, there are plenty of online aggregators and review sites that will publish information about you or your company. If one of these businesses has the wrong data about you, reach out to company representatives immediately and tell them it needs to be corrected. If you spy a review you feel is unfounded, you can respond directly to the review, or if it's blatantly false you can contact the review site and ask for it to be removed. The personal information sites also have opt-out policies, but you'll have to contact each one and go through that process, which can be time-consuming.
If Google searches are turning up offensive or false pages about you, the search engine giant has an online remediation process where you can ask for the information to be removed.
3. Be prepared to amend public records.
If the erroneous information lies within a public record, you'll need to request fixes directly from the entity that produced the record. That could be anything from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the local courthouse. Sometimes there's a website that will allow you to file a correction request, other times you'll have to call or visit in person, if the record-keeper is nearby. But many public records--including tax liens and business licenses--are in the public domain. If they're correct, you can't remove them, even if they're inconvenient.