John Battelle has an interesting post about a New York public policy group that has taken out ads on Google grading New York state legislators’ voting records. Political spending online is an important and growing area of geotargeted paid search (and other local online marketing) that we don’t currently cover. But it’s an increasingly important area.
These legislators are all public figures and so there is no defamation/libel issue from a reputable organization publicizing their voting records. But like some of the trademark questions on the commercial side, imagine how paid search might be used to disparage or negatively affect the reputation of an individual or local business. We may see a day relatively soon when individuals with any degree of professional or public visibility need to manage themselves just like brands on the Internet and buy their own names as keywords to protect (as well as advance) their reputations.
Think about this scenario: I have a bad experience with a local mechanic or other local contractor and am unable to satisfactorily resolve the dispute. I walk away angry and so I launch a search campaign (supported by a free blog) to tell the world about this corrupt mechanic (in my opinion).
Whenever that mechanic is searched for in a certain geography, my ad comes up telling people not to go there. If I’m skillful I could have a material impact on that business’ reputation and outlook. I get sued and — maybe — Google or Yahoo! or MSN gets sued too.
This is the lawyer in me spinning out scenarios that probably won’t come to pass. But there would be no way to police this kind of thing on an automated basis. The engine would have to have a grievance procedure — a kind of internal private arbitration where parties complain, ads are brought down pending some sort of resolution, etc.
Anyway (I hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas).