With countless companies trolling, collecting and spreading our personal data all over cyberspace, someone sooner or later was bound to offer us a fix.
So here it is. And it sounds like a bit of a cyber superhero: ReputationDefender (or more specifically www.reputationdefender.com).
The company offers consumers — for a fee — to hunt down and clear your records from the Web sites that post your personal data without your permission or sites that post wrong information, a problem the Consumer's Edge recently noted.
But, wait, there's more.
ReputationDefender, a 4-year-old Redwood City, Calif.-based company, will monitor what's being said about your children online. And the company will even define your online image. The services generally run $10 to $15 a month.
Nothing personal against ReputationDefender Chief Executive Officer Michael Fertik, but it's one of those situations where it feels like the tech world is putting a gun to our collective heads and saying:
"We're going to put your private information out there for the world to see — unless you pay for some protection."
So I had a chat with Fertik, who by all accounts relishes in the superhero role.
"I have a missionary's zeal," Fertik says.
His mission is to return us to the days when our private information was, well, private. He has taken his message to Dr. Phil, Fox News, Forbes and others.
He sometimes calls it "Google insurance" or "the new digital security."
John Zajac, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau branch in Clearwater, said consumers should research the companies before contracting with them and a good one could provide a good public service.
"Some people may find comfort in that," said Zajac, adding that ReputationDefender is certified with the BBB and has a B+ rating, mostly because it still is relatively new. "Others can accomplish this themselves."
The social networks, retailers and countless others soak up every bit of data they can about us. That data is aggregated, packaged, sold, analyzed and used to profile us down to our religion and sexual orientation.
The endgame, Fertik says, is to evaluate your credit risk, determine whether you would make a good employee or gather help with dating decisions.
Soon, Fertik says, we can expect to see programs that gather photos and videos of us from throughout cyberspace and link them together through facial recognition software.
(Why do I feel like I'm in some strange futuristic movie?)
Well, here's the Edge:
• Focus on the front-end. With our ever shrinking dollars, not many have extra money to spend on "Google insurance." Carefully choose what information you make available over the Internet. Remember, it never dies.
• Do it yourself. It can be time consuming and difficult, but you can save money if you monitor your online presence yourself. Google yourself every now and then to see what pops up to make sure the information is accurate and to have it deleted from places where you don't want it.
• Check the company's background. If you feel it necessary to hire a company to protect your online privacy, be sure to research them first. Consult the Better Business Bureau ( www.bbb.org), your local consumer protection agency or state attorney general's office.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.