AdWeek Articles On Google Ad VP Torrence Boone Hit With Bogus DMCA Notices Issued By Bogus 'News' Websites

from the bullshitting-bullshitters dept

It appears there's still no shortage of quasi-reputation management efforts being deployed in the form of bogus DMCA takedowns issued by bogus "news" websites.

Pissed Consumer uncovered this shady tactic back in April, noting that legitimate-sounding sites like the "Frankfort Herald" and the "Lewisburg Tribune" were issuing takedown notices on complaints posted to the gripe site. These fake news sites tended to be filled with a blend of scraped content and and negative reviews/posts from sites like Pissed Consumer and Ripoff Report copy-pasted in full and backdated to make them appear as if they'd appeared at the bogus sites first.

Our article about this tactic, containing some additional details we tracked down, caught the eye of an entity called Web Activism, which is now digging up as many details as it can about this DMCA-abusing reputation management tactic. Web Activism notified Adweek that a couple of past articles hosted there were being targeted by bogus DMCA notices.

AdWeek's Patrick Coffee notes that his website first treated these takedown requests as legitimate.

This attempt was temporarily effective in that we unpublished the story. That’s not something we’d normally do, but given that the post was 6 years old and we weren’t aware of the context, we figured it was appropriate. We recently put the post back up, because the takedown request was a big lie.

The targeted posts contained some unflattering depictions of Torrence Boone, who went from a sinking ad agency to a Vice President position at Google, working closely with its ad partners. The takedown requests weren't issued -- at least not directly -- by Boone. Instead, they came from a fake journalist at a fake new site: Jennifer Clandon at fox18news.com.

As Coffee notes, there is no person named Jennifer Clandon working for Fox News… anywhere. Not only that, but the Fox 18 News site is now unreachable. The fake article cited in Clandon's DMCA takedown request is a word-for-word copy of AdWeek's original post.

For what it's worth, Boone's lawyers deny he had anything to do with the bogus takedowns.

Boone’s lawyers have repeatedly denied to AgencySpy that he was involved in the takedown requests or that he had any knowledge of the effort that appears to have been made on his behalf. They admit he has occasionally “hired digital marketing firms to manage his online profile” but claim that “they have not taken any action directed toward [your company] on behalf of Mr. Boone in March 2016, or at any other time.”

Tellingly, though, his lawyers spent most of our exchange last week arguing against the content of the “unemployable” post rather than discussing the request to take it down six years later: “In reply to your email to Mr. Boone, he disputes the defamatory blog post reportef [sp] by AdWeek in 2010 that he was ‘unemployable’. Mr. Boone stands by his service at Enfatico.”

But Coffee also points out that Boone has previously issued DMCA notices in his own name in an attempt to remove a photo of him from the internet.

The Lumen database also includes a separate entry for a 2012 request made by Boone himself, who asked that Google remove the “Hot” post because it contains allegedly copyrighted materials in the form of “A picture of me at a Carnival parade in a costume that includes a blonde and orange clown wig.” It’s unclear whether Google responded to this request.

The bogus Fox site may be down, but the Internet Archive has salvaged a few pages. None of them are the one cited in the bogus takedown notice, but there are others that seem very out of place in a TV channel's website. One is a very angry complaint about (gasp!) a reputation management service, Reputation.com. Another refers to a medication service as a pyramid scheme. Another DMCA notice issued by the FoxNews18.com site lists an email address of anthonygrice44@gmail.com -- likely another throwaway account that would reveal nothing about the true owners of the bogus news site.

Going further back into the archives, it appears the URL once belonged to a legitimate news site that served Charlotte, North Carolina. For most of 2015-16, however, it was repurposed as a scraper site to generate bogus takedown notices.

Web Activism also pointed AdWeek to further copies of its posts at another fake news site, Lewisburg Tribune. (This site was previously mentioned in our original post on the subject.) This site has also gone dead, leaving behind only what's been saved by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

Torrence Boone may have no direct knowledge that these actions are being performed on his behalf. He admits -- through his lawyers -- that he has outsourced his reputation management on previous occasions. The combination of scraped content, dodgy English, and zero shame seems to indicate somewhat-reputable reputation management firms are also outsourcing their reputation management work, possibly hiring people outside of US-governed jurisdictions (via any number of freelance services like Upwork or Fiverr) to whip up fake sites to plant content they want removed from Google's listings.

Even if the reputation management firms haven't outsourced their bogus takedowns, there's very little risk involved. Fake names attached to fake sites are often almost impossible to link back to real individuals or companies. The worst thing that can happen when a bogus DMCA notice is issued is nothing -- at least to the shrouded reputation management firms. The reputations they're managing might get shredded by the Streisand Effect, but it's not as though the government has much interest in pursuing those who abuse the DMCA process. Shady reputation management firms will continue to be shady as those screwed by their bogus tactics aren't going to take the risk of further exposure by publicly calling them out for turning their already-damaged reputations into mini dumpster fires.

Web Activism, however, claims to be doing something about this. It is investigating these bogus sites/takedown requests in hopes of uncovering the people/entities behind them. To date, it has rounded up 500 questionable DMCA notices, investigated 200 of those and published reports for 55 of these. It will continue to dig into these going forward, keeping an eye on the Lumen "Chilling Effects" DMCA database for new arrivals from bogus websites.


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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:28am

    There we have it, folks, the DMCA in all its glory, working as designed.

    There's a reason why, in any other context, the law requires the accused to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Look at the long history of DMCA takedowns being used for censorship (as designed!) to see what happens when we turn that important piece of jurisprudence on its head.

    This is why we need to repeal the DCMA and replace it with something sane.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 10:42am

    Occum's Razor says...

    Boone’s lawyers have repeatedly denied to AgencySpy that he was involved in the takedown requests or that he had any knowledge of the effort that appears to have been made on his behalf.

    I would say that the odds that someone was willing to go to the trouble to create a site, include the content that was 'inconvenient' and then demand it's takedown had no connection at all to the person mentioned in said content is low, to put it mildly.

    That said the assertion that he had no idea it was happening is probably mostly true, as I imagine it was more a process of him hiring someone else to 'manage his online profile' and leaving the details to them, that group outsources some of the work to someone else(for legitimate reasons or just plausible deniability), and that group was the one that threw together the 'news' site and sent the takedown.

    Everyone with a reputation on the line comes through squeaky clean, covered by being able to honestly say 'I didn't order that!', the content is removed, and there's no-one to hold accountable. Win-win for everyone but the person who's content got pulled due to fraud.

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

    • identicon
      Webactivism, 15 Aug 2016 @ 8:43pm

      Re: Occum's Razor says...

      "That said the assertion that he had no idea it was happening is probably mostly true"

      What we can't understand is, what was he thinking was going to happen when his PR agency told him that they'll 'get rid' of the Adweek article for $xxxx.

      Option 1 - They might use their connection, or bribe, in order to take down the article

      Option 2 - Try something blackhat

      This wasn't about SEO, this was about removing the article from source. For such an experienced and intelligent person, it is difficult to believe that he had no idea about this at all.

      IDK, right ?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:15pm

    "but it's not as though the government has much interest in pursuing those who abuse the DMCA process."

    Until the government itself is on the receiving end of being bombarded day in day out by those who abuse the DMCA process then the government may well do something about it.

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

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:29pm

      Re:

      The government can't hold copyrights, though. So this is a problem that won't become painful to them.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:43pm

        Re: Re:

        Even if they could hold copyrights they still wouldn't have to deal with the problems, because they could always tell someone else to handle it.

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

      • icon
        Mike Masnick (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:45pm

        Re: Re:

        The government can't hold copyrights, though. So this is a problem that won't become painful to them.


        To be clear, the gov't absolutely CAN hold copyrights, if they're assigned to it. They just can't get copyright on works that they themselves create. But a contractor or someone else can get a copyright and assign it to the gov't.

        But otherwise your point is fair.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:22pm

        Re: Re:

        False DMCA notices can be issued against anything published on the web, and so anything the government published could be targeted. Just because a work is in the public domain is no protection.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:18pm

    going nuclear

    The DMCA is the nuclear bomb of takedown weapons. Should we be surprised that people find more and more ways to abuse it?.

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

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:09pm

      Re: going nuclear

      What is needed is a Mutually Assured Destruction sort of retaliation when the DMCA filing is bogus.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 1:16pm

        Re: Re: going nuclear

        Any punishment whatsoever would be a significant improvement over the current state of the law, which tells you all you need to know about how 'balanced' it is.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:35pm

    Interesting...

    fox18news.com was registered in 1999, was renewed on GoDaddy in 2015, and expired on July 13, 2016. The host IP used to be 82.221.128.183.

    That IP is hosted in Ireland by Advania hf, to THOR Data Center efh.

    Surrounding IPs resolve to:

    82.221.128.178 bibberpayton.com
    82.221.128.180 ns1.everfarm.cc
    82.221.128.181 pillsbrothers.com
    82.221.128.184 host.actionheronetwork.org
    82.221.128.185 dns1.orangewebsite.com
    82.221.128.186 dns2.orangewebsite.com
    82.221.128.187 ns1.mytube.is

    The orangewebsite.com domains were the NS servers for fox18news.com.

    Just in case this information is useful to someone.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2016 @ 12:46pm

    "reputation management" == scammers

    Just like:

    "SEO" == scammers
    "multi-level marketing" == scammers
    "email marketers" == scammers

    All of these rely on the naive and gullible; all of them engage in abuse and fraud; all of them are run by greedy sociopaths.

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

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 15 Aug 2016 @ 4:21pm

    Great story, but where is the "sue the into the ground" mentality? This is a perfect case of DMCA abuse, where the claim is clearly fabricated from end to end, yet nobody seems willing to step up to the plate and take a legal shot at these people.

    It's just about the perfect case.

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

  • identicon
    Coco, 16 Aug 2016 @ 8:28am

    Tears of a clown

    If you mean this photo, then it's the first image result Googling for "Torrence Boone clown".

    http://www.adweek.com/agencyspy/hot-ad-woman-of-the-day-torrence-boone/7007

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


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