Do you have a right not to be indexed?

From Rob Hyndman’s blog I learned that Avvo — the lawyer-ranking site that was started by a lawyer friend of Stuart MacDonald’s from the old Expedia days — is being sued by a lawyer who doesn’t like the fact that he has been included in the startup’s index. There seem to be a lot of issues at stake here (depending on whom you believe), and several lawyers who have commented either to the media or on the Avvo blog seem to think that the company’s business is somehow unethical and/or illegal.

lawsuit.jpgBut the part that interests me is the argument that Avvo is doing something wrong by ranking lawyers without their permission (not to mention getting things wrong along the way, as a CNet story describes). One commenter on the Avvo blog equates this to <a href="“>being conscripted by the company into modifying his own profile, because not doing so would mean a lower ranking:

“Of course, Avvo welcomes me to correct their misleading post … yes, if I work for Avvo and increase the value of their database, I can correct their misinformation.”

and then:

“Now that’s a great business model: publish very limited (essentially disparaging) information about people that conscripts them into being your researchers and data-entry employees (and do it as a surprise to them)!”

Do people have a right not to be indexed by such a service, or should they have such a right? It’s an interesting question. Avvo uses publicly-available information about lawyers, drawn from attorney associations and other databases, in much the same way that (also started by a former Expedia exec) indexes all the info about houses.

Houses can’t sue, however, nor can homeowners sue because they don’t like the value of their house. Lawyers, as we all know, can sue over just about anything. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes out — and if I was running a site like, I would be watching closely.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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