Shadow Identities

Another identity that is being further compromised by Internet technologies is the public identity of people, organizations, and their creations. Entities like manufacturers, film studios, and retailers go to considerable lengths to protect their images from misrepresentation. Certainly, many of these entities have established a presence on the World Wide Web to promote their preferred image. For example, organizations ranging from the American Red Cross to Xerox sponsor sites that provide a positive perspective on their mission, growth, and services. In an increasing number of cases, some corporations may even conduct business entirely online (e.g., Suffice it to say, such organizations would prefer not to have their reputations tarnished by anyone, certainly not by an easily accessed competing Web site.

“shadow identities” can be created for virtually any site on the Web thanks to the way search engines work. When search engines are directed to look for a word or phrase on the Internet, they do not necessarily discriminate among the sites containing the indicated word or phrase. They merely report back the matches they have found online. Some of the matches they find might indeed be the shadow pages that Wright described, pages that can incriminate a reputation. Thus, in searching for information on a popular retail chain like K-Mart, the search results might also include a “K-Mart Sucks” page. Prior to the advent of the Internet, a disgruntled employee or dissatisfied customer had limited range and could only “bad-mouth” an organization to personal acquaintances. Now that angry person can reach a global audience, casting doubt on the prestige and potency of an international reputation.

Likewise, individuals may have damage done by their own reputations because of the shadowy influence of these sites. In the case of Dr. Gloria Brame, an Atlantabased therapist, she discovered that a company was posting pornographic materials to the domain name Naturally, Brame feared that this lewd representation, which she of course had no role in creating, could still damage her reputation. She was fortunate that when she sued, the ISP hosting the site shut it down; not all shadow pages go away so easily.