Global Economics

Garlik Guards Your Cyber-Reputation


Not only does the firm helps people protect themselves against identity theft but it also rates people's digital "status"

Barack Obama may or may not become the next U.S. President, but he is already a winner in cyberspace. His Internet profile now surpasses those of Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and even Paris Hilton. At least, that's the conclusion of Garlik, a British startup that has developed a system to rate people's digital status—"the way in which each of us is perceived in the online world," as the company puts it.

Garlik, one of the World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneers for 2008, is focusing on one of the most dramatic changes wrought by the Internet: the vast amounts of data about individuals—everything from résumés and photographs to gossip and once-private details of their lives—now available online.

Increasingly, people are forming first impressions and making decisions about others based on their online profiles, says Garlik Chief Executive Tom Ilube. According to the company's own research, 32% of Britons have searched online to find out more about tradesmen and professionals such as doctors and lawyers before hiring them. Some 16% have chosen a new home based on how their prospective neighbors appear online, and 12% have researched blind dates before meeting them.

Fighting Online Identity Theft

"Personal information in the digital world is going through a massive revolution, but there aren't really that many companies that are focused on how to help the individual consumer," he says. Ilube and Mike Harris, both former executives of the British online bank Egg (C), co-founded Garlik in 2006.

The company's first—and still primary—business is helping customers combat online identity theft. For about $6 a month, clients obtain a weekly report, culled from more than 4 billion Web pages as well as public records, commercial databases, and other sources, that details information available about them and assesses their risk of identity theft.

Now, in a bid to boost its own profile, the company has branched into digital reputation assessment with its free-of-charge service called QDOS. On Nov. 29, Garlik announced it had taken the "digital measurements" of all 45 million adults in Britain—as well as a few dozen global celebrities, including Obama. Each one is assigned a score based on such factors as the number of people they interact with online, their level of online activity via blogging and chatting, and the number of people who click on their blogs and postings.

No Cyberspace for Old Men

Tim Berners-Lee, widely credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web, serves on Garlik's board and is the driver behind one of the key technologies used by QDOS. Called "the semantic Web," it is a sophisticated method for locating data online and understanding its meaning and context.

One key finding: Status in the real world doesn't necessarily translate into cyberspace. Rock legend Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, for instance, has a much lower Internet profile than Lily Allen, a 22-year-old digitally savvy British musician, according to Garlik's assessment.

Garlik's next stop is the U.S. As early as the first quarter of 2008, it plans to offer digital profiles of all U.S. adults. However, it will face competition from established U.S. companies that already help people monitor and manage their online personas, such as Lifelock, ClaimID, TrustedID, and ReputationDefender.

Want to see the profile of your favorite celebrity—or your British cousin? Click on www.qdos.com. Before long, you may have a taste for Garlik.

Schenker is a BusinessWeek correspondent in Paris.

Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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