When we talk about having your reputation tarnished by Google, it’s typically about someone who has negative search results associated with their name. But in this case, it’s a mistaken association with Google cofounder Sergey Brin that’s causing trouble.
people article mistaken identity, reputation tarnished

In September 2013, an article appeared in People Magazine that had the title of “Billion-Dollar Breakup“, which spoke to a potential relationship split between Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin, and his wife of over six years, Anne Wojcicki. The article alleged that Sergey had a mistress on staff: Google Glass product marketing manager Amanda Rosenberg.

A photo was inserted to let the world know what Brin’s supposed mistress looked like, but there was just one problem: it wasn’t actually a photo of Rosenberg. Rather, it was Nathalie De Clercq, who had her photo taken while riding her bike through Central Park in Manhattan and wearing Google Glass.

De Clercq has gone on record saying she has never met Brin, and has never met his wife or supposed mistress either. Yet, thanks to People, her reputation is now called into question, and she frequently has to take on the arduous task of convincing others that she is not actually Brin’s mistress. De Clercq has filed a $4,000,000 lawsuit in New York stating that the association with Brin has “tarnished her reputation.”

Once People Magazine learned of the mistake, they ran the below correction.

Published in September 23, 2013 issue: CORRECTION: In our story on Google cofounder Sergey Brin’s split from his wife, Anne Wojcicki, the photograph of Amanda Rosenberg, the woman who has allegedly had a romantic relationship with Brin, was actually of another person. We have no reason to believe the person shown in the article has a connection to any of the subjects in the story. We regret the error.

However, that apology wasn’t enough for De Clercq.  She maintains that this confusion of whether or not she is romantically associated with Brin has greatly damaged her professional reputation. De Clercq started up a tech firm in Manhattan last year named WipLabs. When the People article was published, De Clercq was doing everything she could to get the company off the ground, including attempting to secure funding from venture capitalists. With the article and ensuing mistaken association, De Clercq ran into trouble with funding and establishing her budding business. De Clercq’s attorney, Jeffrey Eilender, explains:

She’s been having trouble getting financing and getting her business on a good footing because she has to deal with this question mark.  Either she’s a laughingstock or they think she’s a mistress.

Though De Clercq admits she appeared in Google Glass stock photos, she has no idea why People selected her photo for the story last September. In comparing De Clercq with Rosenberg, the two women do have similar features. But Rosenberg has published a multitude of photos of herself online, including the one below on her actual Google+ account. Why did People fail to perform a simple Google search…on a Google employee?

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This case does not seem likely to go to trial, but this filing is no less remarkable. It’s astonishing that accidentally having your likeness associated with a different person’s name could be worth worth $4M. And though it does seem like a stretch that an intelligent venture capitalist would turn away funding to a company because of a misplaced photo in People Magazine, it does beg the question: just how valuable is your image?