Stupid Legal Threats: Sketchy Crowdfunded Food Scanner Company Threatens To Sue Site That Reported On Phantomware Product

from the repeat-after-me... dept

Another day, another ridiculous legal threat. This time it's from a company called "TellSpec" against the news site Pando Daily. Last year, it appears that Pando had a couple of articles about Tellspec, a crowdfunded food scanning project that raised $386,392 on IndieGoGo. Pando was reasonably skeptical of the product, which claimed it could tell you the "allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories and ingredients" of your food just by "scanning" the food with a handheld device. Pando called it a "giant medical scam."

Physicists weighed in that the scientific claims made by Hoffman and Watson were at best dubious and at worst a blatant scam. According to TellSpec’s Indiegogo page, their food scanner would be powered by a “Raman spectrometer,” which puts out pulses of light to measure particle density and collect a detailed fingerprint of the food which is then analyzed in order to calculate nutritional information.

Physicists called bull. Raman spectrometers are weak, big and expensive. To do this scan accurately you would need to be sending out a high density of wavelengths from the spectrometer, fueled by a high-powered source, not a tiny rechargeable battery as TellSpec claimed. It would be impossible, many people said, to miniaturize this so dramatically and to do so for a $250 price tag. That’s without taking into account that most experts suspected the technology would be useless in assessing the finer details of food texture and detecting small trace ingredients in low concentrations, like the food allergens it swore it could find.

Pando noted that after public criticism, TellSpec added a disclaimer (not originally in its pitch video) that the video was not of a real device, but was "solely for the purposes of demonstration." Since the campaign was funded, the story from TellSpec has changed over time. Here's more from that Pando article from last year:
On November 18, TellSpec posted a “Live demonstration of technology” on its YouTube page. Unlike the small, less than palm sized device promised on Indiegogo, the scanner used in the four-minute video is much larger, doesn’t operate wirelessly and has a secondary part crudely taped onto it.
Also, some video trickery:
Once again TellSpec displays its knack for misleading videos. When the camera focuses in on the phone to show off its analysis of the food being scanned, the phone’s clock is clearly on display. The first result is from 1:30 p.m., but in the next shot it’s 1:21 p.m., 1:22 p.m. and 1:23 p.m, before jumping back in time again to 1:15 p.m., 1:18 p.m. and 1:19 p.m. What we’re clearly seeing is not a live demo, but a series of cut together clips which cast doubt on whether what’s shown on screen has any connection to what was scanned by the device.
And then there's this:
Then surprise, surprise, in mid-March, TellSpec updated their Indiegogo page to say that they were ditching the technology that they claimed in the video to have spent nine months working on. The TellSpec scanner wouldn’t have a Raman spectrometer in it, but would instead feature Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, essentially a series of micro-mirrors that switch on and off at high speed.
Anyway, it's now a year and a half after that story (and over a year since the company had originally promised to deliver its device, and suddenly... TellSpec is threatening Pando with one of the most laughable defamation threats we've seen (and we've seen a lot of laughable defamation threats):
From: Isabel Hoffmann

Date: October 14, 2015 at 5:01:00 PM PDT

To: Andrew Anker

Subject: Pando Daily Defamation and Retraction

Dear Andrew

Last year, Tellspec was victim of a persistent and consistent defamation attacks, with three articles written by James Robinson and published by Pando Daily. We have sent requests to the editor as well as the past writer to retract the defamation done both on Tellsepc [sic] and my person.

Social media and in particular RedIt [sic] has several explanations that are not very ethical for this sudden attack on Tellspec, I encourage you to read them. After several failed attempts to contact the editor I have engaged a lawyer to start an action against Pando Daily.

I understand that you are now the chairman for Pando Daily and I wonder if you are aware of this. I would appreciate a call or an email so this can be resolved amicable [sic] and without further delay. Tellspec has suffered financial losses due to these articles that claim we are a scam. Please advice [sic] if we can talk before my lawyer contacts you and the editor.

Isabel
All typos in the original. This is a joke. As Ken "Popehat" White often points out, a hallmark of censorious trademark attacks is a failure to actually show what statements the person or company believes to be defamatory. Also, generally speaking, the statute of limitations on defamation claims is one year. The article that Isabel Hoffman/TellSpec is complaining about is from April of 2014. They kinda missed their window to sue, if they truly believed it to be defamatory. Of course, there would actually need to be defamation in the original article as well. And I'll say this as someone who generally is not a fan of Pando's reporting, I can't find a single thing in the original articles that would even border on defamation.

In the Pando article about the threatened lawsuit, Pando editor Paul Carr notes that Hoffman called Pando's lawyer and is now threatening to sue the site in the UK (famous for somewhat more ridiculous defamation laws) despite the fact that Tellspec appears to be based in Canada and the US, not the UK. After a bout of "libel tourism" the UK finally updated its defamation laws a few years back to make it much harder for non-UK individuals and companies to sue there. And Pando is based in the US as well. Even assuming there was some legitimate way to get a case going in the UK, the SPEECH Act in the US would certainly protect Pando. In short, the whole threat appears to be your standard ridiculous bullying, which will only serves to draw more public scrutiny to Tellspec's silly project and the original claims it made that it has failed to live up to. Or, as Carr notes:
Hopefully it goes without saying that Tellspec is very welcome to sue us in San Francisco, London, Timbuktu or on Mars. We stand firmly behind our coverage of Tellspec and, as is our policy in these situations, will aggressively defend -- in any court that actually has lawful jurisdiction over Pando -- against any attempt to silence our reporting.
Of course, finding a lawyer actually willing to file a lawsuit in any of those places may prove to be a challenge. Someone accurately calling you out for a sketchy product with a misleading pitch is not defamation. Sending threats past most reasonable statute of limitations is not a good idea. Sending a threat to sue in a random third party country is not a good idea. And, of course, doing all of that in an attempt to stifle some bad press coverage of your sketchy product is... well... not generally a sign of good judgment.

Filed Under: crowdfunding, defamation, food scanner, isabel hoffmann, legal threats, raman scanner, reporting, reviews
Companies: indiegogo, pando, tellspec


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 1:21pm

    "Of course, finding a lawyer actually willing to file a lawsuit in any of those places may prove to be a challenge."

    Hey now, I'm sure there are some lawyer's hungry for some work. Did they contact Charles Carreon yet? These kinds of defamation suits are probably right up his alley.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 4:12pm

    For the ha-ha's on these "frauds"

    Should the people who sent 'em money just turn around and claim it as a loss or business expense on their taxes and let the IRS deal with 'em?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 21 Oct 2015 @ 4:48pm

    When the camera focuses in on the phone to show off its analysis of the food being scanned, the phone’s clock is clearly on display. The first result is from 1:30 p.m., but in the next shot it’s 1:21 p.m., 1:22 p.m. and 1:23 p.m, before jumping back in time again to 1:15 p.m., 1:18 p.m. and 1:19 p.m.

    I don't see why everyone keeps going on about the impossibility of TellSpec's food scanner technology when the big story is that they've invented a time machine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 21 Oct 2015 @ 6:24pm

      Re:

      Not necessarily. It might just be a slow process, roughly 24 hours per step.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2015 @ 6:27am

        Re: Re:

        So by the time it finishes analyzing my ice cream its melted. Well that would prevent me from ingesting alergens even if the device is unable to detect them so that proves it works!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Derek Kerton (profile), 22 Oct 2015 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      And set the controls to your post's time of Oct 21st, 2015 @ 4:48pm?

      Great Scott! That would take more energy than a Raman Spectrometer! I'm guessing about 1.21 gigawatts.

      Wait a minute, here. TellSpec seems to have solved the problem of delivering surges of electricity in small packages. Could it be they've actually invented a flux capacitor?

      Mike, is there a picture of "...a secondary part crudely taped onto it"?

      Does it look like this?
      http://goo.gl/aDFuTg

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 22 Oct 2015 @ 2:14am

    Amateurs. Everyone knows that fake fusion reactors are where the real money is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2015 @ 9:54am

    According to Pando she is now denying that she sent the email.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2015 @ 11:48am

    Following the PandoDaily herd?

    Always interesting to see a PandoDaily article, as their editors are always blatantly bias.

    The CEO of tellspec posted a reply to his follow ups, that was never mentioned in articles nor publicized... (Link here =http://tellspec.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/TellSpec-Response-to-Pando.pdf ) I'm sad to say even if it were he would just tear them a new one merely based on their spelling (first year university people? Bias writing 101, take down your opposers, based on things unrelated to the context)

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if what redditor's speculated is true. WHAT IS the motivation for PandoDaily to write so many articles bashing the CEO of Tellspec? ( Conspiracy link here = https://www.reddit.com/r/Cyberpunk/comments/2vvyux/tellspec_has_the_potential_to_destroy_corrupt/com 60q4 ) Is news just slow? Or is it true?
    Why always just write about his side, never commeting on the full discussion between the two parties?
    Why not just resolve this behind doors instead of kicking up a hissy fit on the internet?

    There are ulterior motives, but sadly no one is looking into them and just following the herd of PandoDaily, the new tech gossip site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tony, 16 May 2016 @ 8:21pm

    Re Anonymous Coward's comment Following the PandoDaily herd?

    Isabel Hoffman, is that you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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