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
Hayfever pills and sleeping aids can 'significantly increase' risk of Alzheimer’s, says US study
Hershey's angers US chocolate purists by forcing company to stop importing 'yummy' Cadbury bars
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
SAG Awards 2015: Best and worst gowns on the red carpet
Nike Back to the Future style self-lacing shoes 'will arrive in 2015'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
- 5 Narendra Modi: Indian Prime Minister wears suit with pinstripes that spell his name to meet Barack Obama
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...
£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...
£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...