Imagine if, overnight, your name started to appear in fake headlines on anonymous websites and blogs. An image of you, manipulated and without your consent, is circulating unchecked in parallel on social networks. The Internet is the perfect example of a double-edged sword: a tool capable of catapulting or burying your online reputation in record time.
Josep Coll, being aware of this and of the fact that the speed at which a rumour spreads online is directly proportional to the difficulty of getting rid of it, decided to co-found RepScan, a start-up company specialising in democratising the right to eliminate or de-index hoaxes, false news and harmful content so that any victim of abuse or injustice on the Internet can be socially reintegrated.
How does a lawyer specialising in intellectual property and a former professor of law become an entrepreneur?
It all started with my passion for music. When the piracy crisis struck, back in 2008, I was working as an intellectual property lawyer for musicians and companies in the industry. Little by little, they all started to close down, so I was forced to find other avenues. I decided to challenge myself: I had to find a solution to the problem that had thrown everything down the drain: piracy. So, in 2009 I created the company Red Points, although I didn't officially found it until 2011, a legaltech start-up that helped the film world and different brands to remove content due to copyright and industrial property issues. I dedicated nine years to the fight against piracy.
The venture didn't stop there, there was a second project.
Yes, that experience made me realise that not only was there a problem in that industry, but also in each and every one of us in our personal and professional world. The Internet has become a place where people say, give their opinions, spread false news, appropriate photos that are not theirs, publish them, and where there is, in short, a lot of disorder. That's why I decided, together with my colleagues, to create a second legaltech project, this time under the name RepScan.
What is RepScan and why is it important?
We recently launched this start-up at the beginning of this year, and we want to make it a solution for people to take control of their digital lives. The Internet is a great tool, but it can come with a big problem: an anonymous person can take over your digital life in 10 minutes. At RepScan, we use technology to solve your issues and remove reputation-damaging web content. In addition, we document the entire process as legaltech so that the client's lawyer (if they have one) has all the information they need and with legal validity.
What is the process from the moment a client requests the start-up's services, how long does it take and how much does digital erasure cost?
The client informs us of the existing content (text, images, videos) that they wish to remove and we carry out a free feasibility study of its removal. If possible, we get to work on it and open our platform so that they can see the status of the removal in real time. To locate this negative information, we use technologies connected to our platform to help us identify it: we use search engine crawlers and rely on Google APIs.
The removal process is usually quite fast; for photo and video it takes about 72 hours and for fake news it can take up to a few weeks. We currently charge 95 euros for a photo or video and 257 euros for a news item. If in two months we haven't been able to remove the content, we refund the money.
After the work has been carried out, our RepScan Alert service can also follow up with the client to alert them if the negative content is re-published, should they become concerned about it.
How can a digital footprint affect the average person?
There are certain news stories that can lead to you not being allowed to enter certain countries, such as the United States, or not being granted a visa at a certain time. Not only that, but banks are now firing workers over digital reputation issues. Online reputation is the new currency within society. With RepScan, we are creating the right to professional and personal reintegration so that people can rebuild their lives.
When you speak of erasing a digital footprint, are you referring to information in search engines as well as social networks and the press?
Yes, it is all-encompassing. We use two main methods to tackle the deletion of digital footprints. On the one hand, we contact the source directly (Twitter, Facebook) so that these platforms remove, according to legal bases, such fake content. On the other hand, with regard to the media, we request the removal of the content or, failing that, the de-indexing of certain news items in which false information appears.
In addition, we request that the initials of the persons concerned be included to protect their names, so that when someone searches for them, they will not appear in the news. All of this is in response to the right to digital social reintegration: people who have had legal proceedings and have been acquitted, but whose data is still present on the internet, have the right to have it removed so that they can resume their lives.
Where does your company draw the line between personal reputation and general interest information within this de-indexing of information?
The right to information has absolute priority, i.e. if the news is based on real data, RepScan can' t do anything about it. If, on the other hand, it is false, there is a right to rectification. The thing is that lately there are many cases of false content created by profiles that are not journalists, and this is where our start-up provides a solution. This doesn't affect journalism, but pseudo-journalism. Nowadays everyone has access to writing a blog or posting content anonymously online.
However, what if the information is true? If I have committed a crime or an offence, I go to prison or pay my fine. After that, the Constitution guarantees my right to social reintegration. If, instead, I have had a trial and have been acquitted, then all the more reason for there to be no content that damages my reputation. And then there is the right to be forgotten, which rises when the right to information is diluted. In Europe, this right guarantees that information that is harmful to a user disappears, not from newspaper archives, but certainly from search engines.
Can having the ability to erase a person's digital footprint work against society and help profiles that want to dispose of certain data?
We don't work for the politicians, nor for banks, nor for people who have committed crimes of racism, xenophobia or gender-based violence. We have very clear limits.
What is the most common client profile and the most frequent deletion request?
The profiles we receive the most are those of businessmen and entrepreneurs who have had companies that didn't perform very well. Most often, they want to delete content about their professional career in order to start doing business again.
Is there any kind of fingerprint that you can't erase?
Impossible content is that which is truthful and very current.
RepScan seeks to "democratise the right to remove content from the internet". Is this possible?
When we talk about democratisation, we mean that we are providing everyone with access to defend their digital reputation. Everyone should have the right to do so. With our fees, we offer much shorter times and prices than hiring a lawyer, so we are making a service accessible to everyone.
How do you envision RepScan in the near future?
We want to become a unicorn and the world's number 1 company for negative reputation management. We are humble, but ambitious, and we know we are doing good for our clients.
Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition