Can TrueRep really protect your online reputation?

Yet another reputation management service strives to help you get a handle on how you look on the Web. But Intelius's TrueRep is a work in progress at best.

What is your online reputation? Just how good or bad do you look to the world of random Internet strangers? These are questions worth asking, and they’ll only grow in importance as we “connect” with more and more people whom we’ll never actually meet.

Beyond Googling yourself obsessively – which gets at some of the info available about you online, but hardly all of it – what can you do? Recently I wrote about Reppler, a service that gauges the shadows cast by your social media activities. Now it’s TrueRep’s turn on the hot seat.

TrueRep is a service from data broker giant Intelius – a leading provider of online background searches for employers and landlords. Its purpose is to show you how you look to these folks, based largely on information in the public record, so you can hopefully change things to enhance your reputation. (Or, if you’re a cynic like me, the purpose is to get you to pony up for the same data Intelius is selling to your boss.)

There are two versions of TrueRep: free and premium. Both versions require you to have a Facebook account to verify your identity. The free version assigns you a “Reputation Score,” though it fails to explain what that number means. You can view a list of your last known addresses, the tax values of your home, and some information about your neighbors.

It also allows you to suppress one phone number and two addresses from Intelius databases, so people using the company’s background search products won’t be able to find your current coordinates. The reason? Safety from stalkers, abusive spouses, and others who might do you harm, says Jim Adler, chief privacy officer for Intelius.

(However, suppressing information on Intelius does not expunge that data from the public record. People can still find you using another public records vendor – or by visiting the county courthouse where the records are kept. If you’re a victim of stalking or abuse you may be able to get the state to remove your address information from public records, depending on where you live. See the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for more details.)

You also get copious opportunities to purchase more info about yourself and your neighbors from Intelius. Last year the company was fined $1.3 million by the state of Washington for deceptive post-transaction marketing, after it automatically signed customers up for services without adequately informing them they’d be charged $10 to $20 a month. I did not see anything like that with TrueRep.

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For $10 a month (or $85 a year) the premium version of TrueRep gives you all that plus an “enhanced” Reputation Score that indicates how much information is available about you online. You get access to your criminal records, civil judgments, and any professional associations you might belong to. And you get some “brand management” tools that hook into social networks and let you create a personal Web page that people searching for you will find before they encounter the nasty stuff. That’s the idea, anyway.

What I really wanted to know was, why did I only get a 73?

The True Rep score depends on a lot of factors, including your age, says Adler. If you’re 25 and have minimal financial history, that won’t negatively impact your score. If you’re 50 and you’ve never bought a home or been issued a credit card, that’s a red flag and will lower your score. For example, one of the reasons my score is lower than it could be is because I’ve got a traffic ticket pending. (Forgot to register the damned car – again.) Over time, he says, Intelius hopes to fold more info about online activities into the Rep Score and be a little more transparent about how that number is calculated.

I’m not exactly sold on TrueRep. The Reputation Score seems arbitrary, and the pay version doesn’t give you much more than the free one does. If you’ve got a criminal record – and you aren’t already aware of that fact – you’ve got bigger problems.

Here’s a metaphor that explains how I feel about public records vendors like Intelius.  

Say you have a fresh water well on your land. The water is all the data available about you in the public record. Though the water is technically yours, other people can also drink from the well, and you still have to pump it out yourself when you get thirsty. Companies like Intelius take the water, bottle it, and sell it back to you at a profit.

And that’s what TrueRep is: your own water in a fancy plastic bottle. Of course, sometimes you want bottled water. It’s certainly easier than digging your own well. (If you’d rather dig than pay, see “Seven ways to rescue your online reputation.”)

As I write this, TrueRep is still in beta, and it shows. I found a half dozen bugs after playing with it for less than a day. But Adler assures me big changes are coming in the near future that will make TrueRep more compelling. Look for more on those in a future post.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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