Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Online Brand And Reputation Protection Got Nasty

What is common between online brand and reputation protection, intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection in an online environment and cyber attacks? For a dominant majority of people there is none. However, if you are a keen observer of recent trend of online brand and reputation management and protection, you would immediately realise there is a strong and direct relationship between them.

In an old case, E2-Labs filed a case against zone-h and zone-h was blocked in India. Arguments against and in favour of such blocking were given from time to time but the site is blocked in India till now.

Not very late it was reported in media that an Indian company was paid by the film industry to get copyrighted works removed from the Internet. The company openly admitted launching of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks against torrent sites that refuse to comply with takedown notices.

Recently, Reliance Entertainment, as a pre-emptive measure for movie Singham, obtained a John Doe order from the Delhi High Court, restraining the screening/distribution of the film on various platforms, including Internet. The court order was served upon various internet service providers (ISPs) in India who blocked access to such file sharing/torrent sites. This affected genuine torrent sites and torrent users as well.

Now there is a new trend in this regard. Industry players are now hiring crackers as brand protectors and reputation managers. None can doubt that a good review boosts the image of a brand of a company and a bad review can hurt its goodwill and brand. The companies are trying to suppress the bad and critical reviews by hiring the services of such crackers.

The modus operendi is very simple. The crackers have to make it sure that the critical online review is not available and accessible to the existing and prospective customers. Earlier this year, a cracker, promising his customers “reputation management” services, had embedded code into the website to prevent search engines from recognising certain postings. In some cases, website visitors were misdirected to a false message stating that the posting had been redacted.

The cracker was hired by reputation management companies that accepted thousands of dollars in monthly fees from their clients, promising that critical reviews about their businesses could be removed from search engine results or deleted from the Internet altogether.

Till now the “legality” of these online brand protection and reputation management activities is not free from blemish. It is high time to formulate norms, standards and regulatory framework for these brand protection and management services in India.