How Porn Star Sasha Grey Removed 1000’s of Dicks From Internet Search Results

What startups can learn from porn stars about improving their digital reputation.

November 20, 2015

Sasha Grey is one of the most high-profile porn stars of this century. She’s known for her classic indie-girl looks and the 321 films that she’s made during her notorious porn career.

However, if you Google her name you’ll be hard pressed to find a single nude photo of her.

Instead, you’ll find photos of her after she reinvented herself as an entertainer, writer and D.J. And the first page of her Google web results are very clean; you’ll find her Facebook page, her IMDb page, her Twitter account, and links to her writing.

So where are the thousands of cocks you’d expect to see?

Welcome to the world of digital reputation management, the business behind making celebrities and companies look squeaky clean.

Companies live and die by their reputation. And in today’s society, this means their digital reputation.

What comes up when you Google someone has a huge reflection on your understanding of them. It could drive your decision to hire or befriend them.

Sasha Grey retired from porn in 2011 and publicly declared that she was focusing on acting and music. She’s had a couple of arthouse hits and has regular D.J. spots, but nothing so breakout as to eclipse her former career.

How did she get so clean online?

I needed to speak to the experts, so I turned to Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, to find out more. He’s in the business of making sure that Google displays the search results you want to be seen… at least on the first page.

Fertik founded Reputation.com in 2006 and has raised $67.25 million, according to Crunchbase. He started Reputation.com when he realized how little control companies had over their online reputation. He thinks people and businesses have a right to privacy.

Fertik doesn’t blink when I ask him to look at Google image search results for Sasha Grey on my computer. Understandably, he could assume this means hardcore porn. We’re tucked away down a side street in Palo Alto, home to companies that include HP, Palantir, and Waze.

Google search results

Fertik’s initial feedback is that there aren’t that many “erotic images for someone who has done as much porn as she did.” We scrolled down the page past sultry poses and headshots that would look great on coffee table books (the polite kind).

I ask him to google her again, this time with “cock” next to her name

“What?” he asked, confused.

“C-O-C-K.”

He started writing “COOK.”

This time, all the results are explicit.

Fertik doesn’t react as we scroll past Sasha sprawled in X-rated positions. “It’s what you’d expect,” he said.

His response is based on his understanding of how Google displays adult image content in search results. In 2012, Google changed their image search algorithm. Previously, Google’s SafeSearch filter would restrict anything explicit. You’d need to turn it off to see adult content.

This is no longer the case.

Now you need to explicitly use words like “porn,” “cock,” or “triple x” in conjunction with people’s names to see related images. This is necessary even when Googling the biggest porn stars in the world.

“We are not censoring any adult content, and want to show users exactly what they are looking for — but we aim not to show sexually-explicit results unless a user is specifically searching for them. If you’re looking for adult content, you can find it without having to change the default setting — you just may need to be more explicit in your query.”Google

* edited for brevity

But Sasha Grey’s web results today are striking

In an Incognito window (so as not to let my own results influence this), the front page of her results are squeaky clean. Her Facebook page. Her Twitter. Her YouTube channel with only one video. Any links to porn are absent. Some results show where she’s been mentioned by media outlets as an “ex-porn star,” but YouPorn et al. links are missing.

But when I checked her out on search engines Bing and DuckDuckGo, the results were very different.

Bing search results

DuckDuckGo search results

“Anal porn, free gangbang videos! Porn Videos and Free Sex Videos,” screamed the headlines.

DuckDuckGo’s images were clean, but Bing’s were the definition of top-shelf porn. Top shelf, wrapped with cellophane, hidden under a dark paper.

Luckily, the popularity of these search engines have rescinded, and it’s all about the Google juice now.

For reference, we compared Sasha Grey to some of today’s top porn starlets, Riley Reid and Abigaile Johnson.

Reid’s page-one Google results had links to XVideos, Pornhub, and RedTube. Her image results were clean(ish), with a few X-rated things in the first 10 lines. But all her Bing images were x-rated.

Johnson’s page-one results were to XNXX, Pornhub, and XVideos. And in case you think that I’m only looking at “new” porn stars, Johnson retired two years ago, and her results are x-rated as can be. Her Bing images are also pornographic.

So how did Sasha Grey do this great clean-up?

There’s a couple of steps you can take, Fertik told me.

You start by claiming your name’s real estate. That means Twitter, Facebook, Medium, a domain, and a blog.

The trick is not getting the content you want hidden – in this case, cocks – off the internet. It’s about pushing it down so it doesn’t appear in the first few pages of search results. Research has shown that 91% of people never go past page one.

Start flooding the internet with new “news.” Start a Tumblr or LinkedIn. Register with a LOT of social networks, even the obscure ones. Get people to link to your new “clean” content. Write Huffington Post guest blogs. Become known on Reddit.

Update your social networks and web domains regularly. This starts pushing down all the “older” content, helping move it to page two.

This would be the embarrassing stories you want to hide from the internet. Like the leaked emails of Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat, which included sexist and immature comments like “F*ck bitches and get leid.”

But the average person and company don’t have things they need to hide. The majority of people seeking reputation work are being reactive, trying to cover up small slights, such as bad reviews on Yelp. Or they’re dealing with awkward things, like sharing the same name as a porn star.

“Never try and solve it yourself if you have a problem,” Fertik said. He said the average person can keep themselves looking OK online with a little maintenance, around 10-20 hours a month. And by maintenance, I’m talking blog-posts, websites, etc. This isn’t a one-off, it needs to be updated to keep you looking good. And yes, Fertik does offer reputation packages for $3000 to $15,000 a year.

Fertik also offers custom reputation management packages, tailored to extreme situations. For example, if drug pharma CEO Martin Shkreli decided he didn’t want the internet flooded with how “he’s a greedy buttwipe” for his price-gouging drug scheme, he’d need some serious personal attention.

“CEOs and entrepreneurs are situated differently to everyday people,” Fertik said. “They both have a lot of discourse, and they have a big microphone. They can take control to some degree.”

If you’re a big name, it’s more likely you can get your new message heard, and placed on big name sites like Salon and The Washington Post. But you might not like what they say.

For now, Grey is focused on her new career in music and television, and getting an extra publicity boost from Stephen Sorderbergh turning her movie, The Girlfriend Experience, into a TV series (minus Grey).

As for Shkreli, well, we’ve already shown that being a supervillain is part of his persona, and we don’t think he’ll be trying to change that anytime soon.

Remember, the internet is forever, so think before you Tweet. And if it’s an emergency, check out Fertik’s book: The Reputation Economy.

Note: We can’t confirm if Sasha Grey used reputation services. We also want to say that we fully support people who choose to reinvent themselves and do not stigmatize their life choices. This story is not intended to create discomfort for her, but to illustrate the power of reputation services and how they can alter one’s digital identity.


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