Author and privacy attorney David Thompson featured on the CBS Early Show

August 23rd, 2011

David Thompson, co-author of the bestselling book Wild West 2.0, was featured on the CBS Early Show this morning to discuss the privacy implications of facial recognition scans.

Marketers are starting to use facial recognition technology to learn about the people who visit malls and stores.  For example, a drug store might set up an advertisement that shows information about makeup to women, and information about razors to men.

However, the danger is that the information collected might not be limited to just demographic information.  The technology exists to make it easy for marketers to identify individual people who are visiting stores.  Imagine walking through a mall and, the next day, getting an email from each of the stores you visited.  Or going to a bar and getting a call from your car insurance company the next day, asking if you were drinking and driving.  Or just having a list of all your most sensitive visits (visits to doctors offices, STD testing or treatment clinics, Planned Parenthood) made available for anyone to view.

View the short clip of the CBS Early Show here:   Face Scan Tech May Know What You Want to Buy

Great points about Wild West 2.0 in Startup Professionals

July 18th, 2011

We just saw that Martin Zwilling over at Startup Professionals posted a great blog post summarizing some of the key messages of the bestselling book Wild West 2.0.

His post does a great job of showing startup entrepreneurs the process of building an online reputation, and it explains why an online reputation is imporant.  In fact, the Startup Professionals blog is a rich resource for all kinds of information about what small businesses need to do online; for example, Martin also discusses when it makes sense to buy domains from domain brokers. 

The book Wild West 2.0 is a great resource for small business owners, professionals, and entrepreneurs.  Almost every business will be reviewed and discussed online — even a lack of reviews online sends a message.  Wild West 2.0 teaches the secrets you need to know to build and protect your business or personal online reputation.

Check out the Startup Professionals blog and buy your own copy of Wild West 2.0 when you’re done.

Google’s “Zero Moment of Truth” Campaign Recognizes the Importance of Online Reputation

July 12th, 2011

Google just launched a new campaign designed to sell more Adwords advertisements.  The campaign is called “Zero Moment of Truth” and can be found with all manner of fancy videos and soundbites at

The basic pitch is that customers for nearly anything—from $1.00 toothbrushes to $1 million homes—search for product information, customer reviews, and other discussions before buying.  Google says that you should buy Adwords to capture this “Zero Moment of Truth.”

Google misses the point.  Google wants people to buy more advertisements that target customers before they have decided to purchase a product.  Google thinks the way to “win” the “Zero Moment of Truth” is to bombard customers with advertisements as soon as they might be interested (no surprise here, given that Google’s revenue comes from advertising).  But Google’s focus is too narrow. 

It’s not about 150-character advertisements; it’s about the entire online image of your product, service, brand, or self.  Even Google’s own ad sales materials admit that customers are looking for information from reviews, discussions, and other sites.  Potential customers (or business partners or employers) will skim the entire first page of search results, trying to find context about the product or service they are considering buying.  Negative reviews will scare some consumers away from purchasing at all (or hiring you, or doing business with you, or whatever else).  A 150-character Adword advertisement will not overcome negative search results, no matter how clever that advertisement may be.

In short, Google’s focus on the “Zero Moment of Truth” is proof that Google understands the power of online reputation management. There is a crucial moment when consumers search the Internet to decide of they want to buy a product or service at all (or if they want to hire or do business with you).  If you want to succeed, you need to capture that moment by carefully shaping your search results to reflect the most positive image possible.  Maybe Adwords advertisements will help, but they are absolutely no substitute for good search results.

Want help capturing your customers’ “zero moment of truth?”  Check out the advice for small businesses in Wild West 2.0.  Want professional help and dedicated advice?  Call the experts at

Michael’s take: High court to hear GPS privacy case?

April 15th, 2011

This entry is by Michael Fertik, the founder of

In an interesting development, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear a case regarding GPS tracking devices and privacy.  The case started when the police secretly placed a GPS tracking device on Atoine Jonas’s car, and used the information to help prove that he was dealing cocaine.  An intermediate court threw the conviction out, but the Obama administration would like the Supreme Court to reinstate it.

There are very interesting Fourth Amendment issues in this case.  But to me, the wider implications are far more important than just the police hiding tracking devices on cars.

GPS data is becoming very common for everyday people.  Most “smart” phones (like the Android, iPhone and BlackBerry series) contain GPS systems.  And lots of applications use this data in interesting ways: Yelp’s mobile application can show you nearby restaurants based on your GPS coordinates.  But some applications (like games) also use your GPS data to target advertising.  And some applications (like FourSquare) use it to broadcast your location to the world.  The result is that there is a huge amount of movement tracking data being assembled about everyday people.  If there is another Epsilon data breach, it could result in your movements being displayed to the world.  If you’ve ever been anywhere private (a doctor’s office, a Planned Parenthood office, a bar, a job interview when you’re already employed, etc) it could be used against you.  The same if burglars know you aren’t home at certain hours of the day (or that you are alone in a dark parking lot every night).  We need to think carefully about what kind of protection is given to these GPS databases—not just against mis-use by law enforcement, but also how they are protected against hackers and others.

My takeaway: I don’t think I have anything to hide.  But I still don’t want the world to be able to know where I am every moment.  It’s a security and privacy threat, and one that not enough people are thinking about in the era of smart phones and data breaches.  Maybe we need to consider GPS privacy before it’s too late?

– Michael Fertik (follow me on Twitter)

The views expressed here are those of the author and not those of his clients, employers, investors or anybody else.

M. Fertik: Department of Education hires first Chief Privacy Officer

April 15th, 2011

This post was written by Michael Fertik, CEO and founder of and co-author of Wild West 2.0: How to Protect Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier.

Here’s some possible good news about privacy for students.  The U.S. Department of Education just hired its first Chief Privacy Officer and proposed new data privacy rules to protect student education records.  The Department is basing its rules on “FERPA,” a 1974 law designed to protect education records from a much less digital era.

More awareness and caution around privacy is always a good thing.  I suspect the Department of Education could improve privacy with some good rules.

But the Department of Education is just one part of the government, and it only has power to issue rules relating to student records.  These new privacy rules are a step in the right direction for awareness, but we need comprehensive privacy reform rather than more piecemeal steps.  We need a truly comprehensive system of privacy protections, rather than just more temporary solutions and bandages.  Until we recognize that individuals have important rights in their own private information, we’ll be forced to rely on these incomplete solutions.

My takeaway: I’m glad the Department of Education is thinking about privacy.  But these new rules are just a reminder that our current system of privacy protection is incomplete and relies on piecemeal regulation in each different industry.  We can do better.

– Michael Fertik

The views expressed here are those of the author and not those of his clients, employers, investors or anybody else.

Michael Fertik: San Francisco rethinks nightclub privacy

April 14th, 2011

This is a post by Michael Fertik, co-author of Wild West 2.0 and CEO and founder of

Here’s one.  In an attempt to crack down on underage drinking and drunk violence in San Francisco (if you’ve ever been to North Beach on a weekend evening, you’ve probably seen one or both happen), the San Francisco Entertainment Commission (a city governmental agency that most people have never heard of) proposed new rules for nightclubs that would require large clubs to take high-resolution video of customers as they enter, and also keep a digital scan of each customer’s driver’s license.  Each club would have to store the videos and license scans for at least 15 days.

Predictably enough, the usual list of privacy organizations spoke out: the EFF, IP Justice, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Beat the Chip, and a list of other groups all raised the obvious privacy problems of a city requiring digital records of everyone who enters a nightclub.

The significance of civil rights and privacy in San Francisco was not lost on those who commented; it seems odd that San Francisco of all places would

The rules are being delayed for further study.

My takeaway: of course there was a privacy outrage… but why did it take so long?  Shouldn’t the Entertainment Commission have thought about the privacy concerns before proposing these rules?  What does it say about omnipresent digital surveillance?

– Michael Fertik

The views expressed here are those of the author alone and not those of his employers, clients, or any other person.

Michael Fertik: Columbia privacy study reveals Facebook truths

April 13th, 2011

This is a post by Michael Fertik, co-author of Wild West 2.0 and CEO and founder of

It should come as no surprise, but a new study from Columbia University shows that even college students have trouble setting and understanding their privacy on sites like Facebook.  The authors of the study asked 65 students at Columbia to describe how much information they wanted to share on Facebook, based on the type of information.  For example, they asked students how much information about “drinking” they wanted to share with the world.  Then, the researchers logged into Facebook and examined how much information was available.  They found that 100% (65 of 65) of students shared too much or too little information compared to what students said they wanted to share.  For example, a student’s profile would be counted as sharing too much if the student said he wanted no information about “drinking” to be available, but a status update said he was “drunk” or “hammered” or any other synonym for drinking.

It is hardly news that Facebook privacy settings are difficult to control.  But it is something new entirely when 65 of 65 students revealed different information than they intended.

Perhaps most importantly, this study recognizes that Facebook privacy settings don’t correspond with how we really view the world.  The students in this study wanted to reveal (or hide) information based on the subject and implications of the information: whether it shows them as drinking, studying, relaxing, or interacting.  But Facebook’s current privacy controls are based on the method of transmission: all photos, or all status updates.  A better privacy model would allow users to display all information about studying to the world, but show information about partying only to friends. 

My takeaway: If  Ivy League college students can’t set their Facebook privacy controls properly, what hope is there for the rest of us?

– Michael Fertik

The views expressed here are those of the author alone and not those of his employers, clients, or any other person.

The Internet is still a frontier: a continuing discussion

July 3rd, 2010

We’ve received an overwhelming response to the book, which is now an official bestseller and in its second printing.  Many people have brought us their own “Wild West” online stories, and helped to expand the metaphor of the Internet-as-frontier into their personal experiences.

But some people have questioned whether the Internet is really a lawless frontier.  For example, in her skillful review, Wendy Grossman of ZDNet UK suggested that the Internet is far more regulated than Wild West 2.0 suggests.  We thank Ms. Grossman for her review and her feedback, and would like to continue the discussion about some of her ideas.

Our point is not that the Internet is completely lawless; instead, our point is that frontiers (like the Internet and the Old West of American history) present great opportunities for social and personal change, but also require self-reliance, self-defense, and constant vigilance.  Our goal is to teach readers how to understand the Internet and why they need to stand up for themselves if they hope to be successful in online life.

As for the frontier metaphor, our key point is that frontiers eventually close.  Just like the Old West, the Internet frontier opened with a gold rush.  But the Old West frontier closed when hundreds of thousands of people moved west and brought their own ideas of “civilization” and “society” with them–at the expense of a culture clash with the original gold-rush occupants.  Today–at the close of the Internet frontier—we are seeing a similar culture clash between old and new users; part of that clash has played out in the variety of responses to the book.

We fully agree that the most lawless days of the Internet are over: Every U.S. citizen that can’t place an online wager is well aware that governments can and do regulate conduct online; as are the virus-writers and hackers who are periodically arrested by Interpol and other international efforts.

But some people argue that the frontier days of the Internet are long gone.  For example, Ms. Grossman, in her recent ZDNet review, suggests that the idea of a “Wild West” for reputation is “quaintly old-fashioned.”  We politely disagree.

In the U.S., the legal system makes clear that victims of online attacks have little or no recourse against their attackers: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act makes it difficult to cooperate with web hosts, and online attackers often disappear into the night without leaving any virtual fingerprints.  Outside the U.S., the legal regime is different, but the technical regime is just the same: it is easy to track users for the wrong reasons (privacy invasions, stalking, spyware, and more) but hard to track users for the right reasons (redress for legal wrongs).

The result has been a continued explosion of online attacks, powered by anonymity and boosted by the power of Google to find and distribute tabloid material.

There are many well-known stories of online abuse, bust just as common are the everyday incidents that don’t get the same media attention as the woman in China falsely accused of affecting a class-ist attitude and forced to resign from her job; or the grandmother in Florida who received death threats because of an allegation made on YouTube; or the woman in Korea whose breach of subway ettiquite became a national discussion and led to a nervous breakdown; or the family in California taunted by images of their deceased daughter through email and Google searches… the list goes on.

Some people, including Ms. Grossman, have pointed to laws the fact that countries other than the U.S. have different laws that have regulated the Internet.  Ms. Grossman and the others are exactly right: the U.S. is the outlier and to our (largely U.S.-based) audience, the failures of U.S. law are very meaningful.  Some countries, like the U.K., have legal regimes that are closer to a notice-and-takedown system. To a large extent, that’s part of our point.

We have blogged elsewhere how Section 230 has shaped the online experience of U.S. users.  Many U.S. scholars claim that CDA 230 is necessary for a successful Internet.  But we noted that other countries like Brazil have very successful commercial and non-commercial Internet services without needing CDA 230.

The U.S. should learn from the examples of other nations that have tried different Internet regulatory regimes and discovered that it is possible to at least somewhat blunt the risk of online attack without compromising other key Internet values.

We want cyber-abuse to stop.  We actively support reforms for U.S. law, improved cyber culture worldwide, and training for students and others as to how to actively protect their own reputation and privacy.

Keep up the great feedback, and thank you to everyone who has contributed to the discussion about online reputation and privacy.

Wild West 2.0 is an Bestseller

June 17th, 2010

The honors continue for Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier.  The book just hit the top 25 on and is now an official Bestseller!

Right now, Wild West 2.0 is #1 in Internet, #1 in Home Computing, #1 in Public Relations, #2 in Marketing and Sales, and #22 of all books on Amazon.

To give a sense of scale, Wild West 2.0 just displaced Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” to take over #2 in Marketing and Sales.  I am amazed that Wild West 2.0 has become such a hot book that it is moving well-known authors down the lists.

We are tremendously honored to be a bestseller.

Wild West 2.0 - Amazon Bestseller

Wild West 2.0 - Number1 Bestseller in PR

Wild West 2.0 - Number1 Bestseller in Internet

Wild West 2.0 - Number1 Bestseller in Home Computing

Wild West 2.0 is the #1 Bestselling Internet Book

June 17th, 2010

Wild West 2.0 has just been named’s Number 1 Bestselling Internet book!

We are incredibly pleased to have this honor.  See details in the screenshot below.

Wild West 2.0 is the #1 Bestselling Internet Book

Thanks to everyone who has supported the book!  Get your copy today if you have not already.