Cyber culture: The perils of Googling yourself
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Wednesday 13 March 2013
"Have you ever tried Googling your own name?" asks fictional Tory MP Peter Mannion in an episode of The Thick Of It. "It's like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are."
American businesswoman Beverly Stayart has spent the last five years searching the internet for her own name and she's been as unimpressed as Peter Mannion. Rather than highlight, say, her self-confessed passion for the environment, or her enthusiastic attempts at poetry, the algorithms used by Google and Yahoo! have randomly juxtaposed her name with a number of drugs used to treat sexual dysfunction, including Cialis and Levitra. Now, most of us have only stumbled across the words Cialis and Levitra in the context of spam and would recognise this phenomenon as just a quirk of the internet, an unfortunate sequence of words that happen to vaguely associate Ms Stayart with erectile problems. But she felt very strongly that her name had been besmirched, and decided to flex some legal muscle.
Her past four years of litigation haven't been very successful. A case against Yahoo! was rejected in 2009, and again on appeal in 2010, the judge ruling that Ms Stayart's good name wasn't a protectable commercial interest. A similar case against Google was dismissed on its lack of overall merit – not least that it couldn't be demonstrated that Google had ever made use of her name, let alone derived any commercial benefit from it. As reports on these cases mounted up online, you could begin to observe an almost perfect example of the so-called Streisand effect. Named after the widespread online sharing of a photo of Barbra Streisand's Malibu residence which she'd specifically attempted to suppress, this particular manifestation of the Streisand effect succeeded in not only associating poor Beverley Stayart with Cialis and Levitra for evermore, but, perhaps more damagingly, demonstrated her unenviable talent for feeble litigation.
Had she consulted an SEO (search engine optimisation) expert back in 2008 instead of a lawyer, she'd have probably been advised to start slinging more stuff online to push any spurious and incidental search results further down the rankings. And she's clearly given that a go; on a page that repeats her name so often that it sounds like a feverish incantation, it reveals that her favourite composition is "Canon in D Major by the 17th Century German composer Johann Pachelbel” amongst many, many other things. But Stayart's failure to appreciate the chaotic nature of online information and her inability to shrug off a few coincidental associations back in 2008 is a lesson to us all: ignore it and it'll probably go away; challenge it and it'll only get worse. Type her name into Google today, the first automatic suggestion is still "bev stayart levitra”. Last week another court ruled on the misappropriation of her name by Google in that auto-suggest box. Stayart lost.
Life & Style blogs
iPhone 6S price: new handset to remain as expensive, Apple unlikely to increase phones' storage
A daily walk 'can add seven years to your life'
Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
Every hospital patient will be given a barcode as part of plan to create a 'paper free' NHS
No, a porn star wasn't tricked into performing a sex act on her brother
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 A Chinese journalist has appeared on state television 'confessing' to causing the stock market chaos
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£30 - 38k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a digitally focussed Account Man...
£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting and disruptive co...
£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this digital ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has a fantastic opportunity for a...