That guy whose college antics turned up on YouTube? The would-be nurse once arrested for child endangerment? The real estate agent whose disgruntled client slammed him on Yelp?
They're not the only ones who ought to fret about what comes up when someone plugs their name into an Internet search engine.
Experts say the average Joe and Jeanette need to devote time and attention to how they are portrayed online, given the growing role the Internet plays in recording and defining our lives.
Maybe they'll find out they share a name with a porn star. Santa Rosa technology consultant Kerry Rego knows three people with that very predicament.
Others face different problems.
A Santa Rosa woman is rebuilding her life after someone with a personal vendetta launched a vast and twisted campaign to malign her over and over on the web.
A Sonoma County man is plagued by an online version of a newspaper story about the arrest of his father, who has the same name and worked in the same field.
Still another Sonoma County man was mortified when his future mother-in-law Googled him and discovered an old newspaper story about his arrest on minor drug charges. Even though he completed a diversion program that erased the offense from his criminal record, the arrest is permanently engraved on computer servers across the Internet.
"There's really no way you can remove things from the web," Rego said. "But you can control the message that is out there about you."
Rego is part of a growing corps of consultants who help companies and individuals take control of their online reputations.
Your digital footprint can impact your ability to get into college, land a job, run a business and find a spouse. Sooner or later, someone is bound to type your name into Google and see what they can find.
It has spawned a new industry: online reputation management, a high-tech stepchild of the public relations and marketing fields. The industry has exploded in recent years, offering high-priced corporate services, self-help books and self-service software applications to help customers alter their online personas.
"We have an expression around here, that you are who Google says you are," said Michael Zammuto, president of ReputationChanger.com, headquartered in Pennsylvania.
The needs of individuals, professionals and corporate entities differ in scale and, likely, the amount of money on the line. But they operate on many of the same principles -- mainly, flooding the system with the kind of well-crafted, regularly updated material that reflects a positive message.
It is nearly impossible to remove negative information from the Internet, whether it reflects youthful mistakes, poor reviews by customers or oversharing of personal information, experts said.
But you can hide it, pushing it off the top page of Google search results and deeper into the recesses of the Internet where few people bother to look.
"Good results help as much as bad results hurt you," said Patrick Ambron, chief executive of BrandYourself. "Not existing or being completely irrelevant is also harmful."
A wide range of companies are willing to perform those duties for a fee -- sometimes in the thousands of dollars, though some firms offer less costly levels of assistance.
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