Whiteout for the Web

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, recently had firsthand experience with search engine optimization (SEO) techniques that companies are using to suppress negative stories about themselves on the Internet. A company called "DONE! SEO" claims that it can "Displace -- push down -- the negative listings with favorable ones and ones that you can control or influence" to "make sure that your company and key executives are being portrayed favorably online by burying the negatives and maintaining a positive online image." One of the "problem sites" where it promised to perform this service was ConsumerWebWatch.org, the Internet arm of Consumers Union. Another company, called "Reputation Defender," offers what it calls "Google insulation," padding the web with friendly-sounding content about its clients and then pushing that content to the top of Google results so that negative information is harder to find.