Consumers Who Had Their Identities Stolen By A Spam Bot Demand FCC Investigate Bogus Net Neutrality Comments

from the industrial-chicanery dept

Shortly after the FCC voted to begin killing net neutrality earlier this month, we noted how a mysterious bot began spamming the FCC comment system with posts favoring the dismantling of net neutrality. Analysis of the bot indicates it has simply been pulling names from a hacked database of some kind, posting the same exact missive over and over again. The scale of the informational assault isn't subtle; one estimate suggests that more than 40% of the nearly 3 million comments filed so far are courtesy of this bot, the operator of which still hasn't been identified.

The original report detailing this bot activity actually managed to get a hold of many of the people whose names are being used, and confirmed that these folks never left comments at the FCC website -- and in many instances have no idea what net neutrality even is. In some instances, many of the supposed anti-net neutrality commenters are no longer, well... living:

It is uncertain how these individuals' personal information was obtained, but it appears that a significant portion of the names and addresses used to post these comments were culled from government files stolen during a number of different network breaches over the years. Many of the addresses associated with these people's names are outdated, and according to the digital rights group Fight for the Future, in at least two cases a comment was filed to the FCC's website by people who recently died.

People who aren't dead and had their names used in this fashion aren't particularly happy about it. Net neutrality activist group Fight for the Future recently launched a website letting users test to see if their name is being used in such a fashion. And they followed that up with a letter to the FCC, signed by more than two-dozen people whose names have been (ab)used in this fashion, urging the FCC to discard the obviously fraudulent comments and help investigate who's behind the campaign:

"Based on numerous media reports [2], nearly half a million Americans may have been impacted by whoever impersonated us in a dishonest and deceitful campaign to manufacture false support for your plan to repeal net neutrality protections. While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position, it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack."

But that's precisely the problem. Because the phony bot comments support the FCC's frontal attack on net neutrality, there's every indication that the FCC intends to do nothing about any of this. And when the final vote comes to a pass later this year, you can be sure that these comments will either be used as evidence of support for the FCC's large ISP-serving policies, or be used to suggest that the massive outpouring of support for the agency's 2015 rules should be disregarded entirely.

The FCC is scheduled to continue fielding comments on its plan to kill net neutrality until August 16. If you're a living, breathing human being, you can add your thoughts to the proceeding here.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:00am

    Ignore calls to remove the bot while simultaneously calling the supporters a massive DDOS attack...

    The agenda couldn't be more clear.

    This is just a dog and pony show to formalize the decision they already made on the public's behalf without their desire.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      "The agenda couldn't be more clear."

      Fuck you citizens and your opinions.
      You may have asked for us, or supported us regulating shit for you, but seriously... fuck you and thanks for your support which put us here.

      ~FCC

      yes, yes in can be made more clear!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:01am

    Their identitites were not stolen

    Oh come on Techdirt. Please be consistent.

    If making a copy of a movie isn't theft, then forging a person's name on an electronic form isn't theft.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:34am

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      The bots seem to have a long way to go before they can pass the turing test.

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

    • icon
      Rapnel (profile), 31 May 2017 @ 11:40am

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      Nice try, Mr.

      Just go back to drinking your copyright rules cool-aid and enjoy your copy of Terminal Reality.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 31 May 2017 @ 11:48am

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      Making a personal copy of a movie for legitimate reasons like backups or format shifting *isn't* theft. Selling that copy is. Misrepresenting it as real, is. Mass-producing copies certainly for profit or influence is. I've never seen Techdirt state otherwise.

      Likewise listing people names can have any number of legitimate purposes that are not theft. This mass-copying and misrepresentation for profit and influence IS theft.

      Techdirt is consistent.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 12:25pm

        Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

        Well, "theft" is used by law-professionals in several ways.
        One is as an overall category involving unsanctioned obtaining something. The other is a specific case of a person losing an item without consent, without the use of force and with the original changing hands.

        When it comes to copyright infringement, the border-case if mass distribution (like making available on a p2p-server) has been called not theft, but copyright infringement/counterfeiting here on the account that copying online doesn't deteriorate the original product in a meaningful way and is not a 1 to 1 loss on the market given how it constitutes an easy way of format shifting etc.

        That misrepresentation/fraud like this is called theft is certainly not consistent with reducing the use of the word theft to its specific meaning.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 12:44pm

        Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

        > Selling that copy is

        I wouldn't call it theft. I'd call it infringement.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 12:48pm

          Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

          Here it is straight from Mr. Masnick:

          > ALL copying IS NOT THEFT

          https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160831/11454935404/our-copying-is-not-theft-t-shirt-seems-t o-really-upset-some-people.shtml#c751

          Same goes for identity theft. There's no such thing. It's identity fraud or just plain fraud.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 1:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

            Perhaps you are unfamiliar with English, or the rules of logic.

            >All copying is not theft.
            Can be interpreted to say that no copying is theft. It can also be interpreted, separately, to say that SOME copying may be theft, but not all of it is. Such as, say, in opposition to someone who is alleging that all copying IS theft.

            While you CAN willfully interpret other people's words as obtusely as possible simply because you don't agree with them, it's not very productive. All such behavior is not becoming.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 1:15pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

              Did you read what Mike said? He made it pretty unambiguously clear that copy is not theft nor can it be theft. Here's some of what he said:

              > It's true that not all unauthorized reproductions are infringing, but ALL copying IS NOT THEFT. Some of it is infringing. Some of it is not. And we can't have a reasoned debate on what makes sense and what doesn't when people continually claim that "copying is theft." It's not.

              > So, we're not saying that infringement is good or bad. We're saying that it's not theft.

              I'm not being willfully obtuse.

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

          • icon
            Roger Strong (profile), 31 May 2017 @ 1:19pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

            Fine; substitute "theft" - the word YOU used - with "infringement." Or just "illegal and wrong." My point still stands:

            Making a personal copy of a movie for legitimate reasons like backups or format shifting isn't illegal and wrong. Selling that copy is. Misrepresenting it as real, is. Mass-producing copies certainly for profit or influence is. I've never seen Techdirt state otherwise.

            Likewise listing people names can have any number of legitimate purposes that are not illegal and wrong. This mass-copying and misrepresentation for profit and influence IS illegal and wrong.

            Techdirt is consistent.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 1:21pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

              TD is inconsistent with the language they use, that's all I'm saying. Copying something is never theft. It can't be. But fraud can be?

              This site needs a style guide for the writers (and I say that as a fan).

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 2:59pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

                Context, it's what's for dinner.

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 7:32pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

                  Read the link that was posted to a comment of Mike's. According to Mike, there's no context where copying is theft. If he didn't feel the same way about fraud not being theft, I'd be surprised.

                  However, this article wasn't written by Mike. Maybe different TechDirt writers have different opinions on the terms used here. It really is confusing.

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

                  • identicon
                    Thad, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:50am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Their identitites were not stolen

                    Yes, but context also refers to the particular topic that we're discussing.

                    I would argue (and have, a couple of posts down) that it's far more important to maintain precise use of legal terms in the context of discussing copyright infringement than it is to do so in the context of discussing fraud. Because in the context of copyright infringement, the imprecise and colloquial use of words like "theft" and "stealing" is a political tool to equate two very dissimilar areas of law in the minds of a public that often does not think that one of those two things is as serious as the other. I am not aware of any such ulterior motive in the colloquial use of "theft" that we see in the phrase "identity theft". Though, again, if you have some examples, feel free to share them.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:57am

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      The words have different meaning depending on context, who knew?

      Depending on who knew the meaning, words have different context?

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 31 May 2017 @ 12:55pm

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      You are correct. Legally, neither copyright infringement nor fraud are theft. Colloquially, both are often referred to as theft.

      There is, however, a fundamental difference in context. Most people would agree that some forms of copyright infringement are ethically acceptable despite being illegal (breaking DRM to play a legally-purchased DVD under Linux, to open a legally-purchased ebook in the program of your choice, to use a text-to-speech program to make a document accessible to the blind, etc.), and believe that, as such, these things shouldn't actually be illegal.

      I'm not aware of any such controversy surrounding fraud, though if you can think of any, please feel free to share with the class.

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

    • identicon
      kallethen, 31 May 2017 @ 1:00pm

      Re: Their identitites were not stolen

      Am I the only one who read this comment as sarcasm and actually thought it was funny? Ah well...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 11:29am

    It looks like the bot is still at it...

    If you look at the majority of the comments from today, they all say the same thing against net neutrality.

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

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 31 May 2017 @ 11:52am

    Captcha anyone?

    What kills me is that the FCC refuses to use even the most basic of anti-bot deterrents... I know that captcha isn't perfect, but hell, it makes the barrier of entry to these types of attacks a lot higher... and damage is mitigated quicker.

    I also find it interesting that the same people rolling back customer privacy issues don't have an issue with a bot stealing people's identities...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 12:56pm

      Re: Captcha anyone?

      The pre-screening is not always a good idea since it can be a nuisance that deters legitimate commenters, while at the same time giving botters indications of when they succeed at circumventing the system. But in the absent of a pre-screening you have to use the logs to determine the bots and discard them before you make any data-analysis. For now, we can only wait and see.

      But since publically available analysis has been done after filtering away the main bots, you can compare the results and if FCCs are significantly different on the numbers, you know they are condoning fraudulent activity.

      I am unsure if condoning/negligence of acting on fraudulent activity is a crime, but if they use the bots activity in their analysis, there should be enough ground for demanding an independent probe into the actions of the administration of FCC and/or demand firings on derelect of duty.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 31 May 2017 @ 12:58pm

      Re: Captcha anyone?

      I know that captcha isn't perfect, but hell, it makes the barrier of entry to these types of attacks a lot higher...

      I'm not sure I'd advocate captcha in this case. Public comment sites like this need to be accessible to blind users, and I'm not convinced that captcha is sufficient.

      That said, a competent IT staff tasked with dealing with bots would be an appropriate way to handle the issue.

      I also find it interesting that the same people rolling back customer privacy issues don't have an issue with a bot stealing people's identities...

      How do you mean? The privacy protections were rolled back by Congress, not the FCC.

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

  • icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), 31 May 2017 @ 1:05pm

    Oh come on!

    If impersonating others were a real problem the free market would take care of it.

    In fact these people should be glad their names were used because it was in the cause of unleashing the competition that will sweep the problem away!

    I am certain about all this because I read Ayn Rand's, Jozef Schumpeter's and future nobelist Paul Ryan's incisive writing on the evils of so-called Net Neutrality.

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

  • identicon
    Idiot Pie, 31 May 2017 @ 2:09pm

    Alternatively

    The other way the FCC could go is to say they're aware of wholesale forgery in the comments, they're unable to tell which are real and therefore they'll dismiss all of them.

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

  • identicon
    notmygov, 31 May 2017 @ 5:08pm

    and they all want "Single" payer - or universal

    This cracks me up.. here's a pile of folks mad at a gov entity (i won't go into the subject that is being commented on).. mad that the gov will not make really any comment and/or movement to investigate something that from an outsiders view screams for a massive investigation.. yet some insist that we HAVE to have single payer/universal health care.. Yes lets put the gov 100% inbetween a person and the healthcare providers.. Yes lets do that - and watch the speed that they respond to items of Much more critical importance..

    smh

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 8:45pm

      Re: and they all want "Single" payer - or universal

      Well that's all fine and good, but the adults here are talking about the intersection of government and telecommunications policy. And I know, this is going to sound like science fiction, but follow me on this. Automated programs that do nothing but interfere with said intersection. It's CRAZY! And last but not least; has fuckall to do with single payer healthcare. Now run along before you get smothered by the Roomba.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:51am

      Re: and they all want "Single" payer - or universal

      Almost as if not all laws or government agencies were the same. How weird.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 7:27pm

    Should have copyrighted their names. Then they'd be protected for 70 years after their death. Lets see the bot beat that!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2017 @ 8:08pm

      Re:

      You're assuming that:
      - a bot would be found guilty of copyright infringement
      - the anti-net neutrality folks behind the bot would be found guilty of copyright infringement

      I know copyright is used for everything from SLAPP lawsuits to censorship - but it has a pretty shit record of catching the "actually guilty".

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

  • identicon
    Sortinghat, 1 Jun 2017 @ 1:15am

    America is a throne on the side of the one world order and has got to go or we will all die. That is the thinking of the elite left and the rich globalist right just milk money off of it instead of stopping it. They too want the pass to go to the DUMBS when it all collapses.

    Your best bet is to learn to live off the land instead of being a consumer/waster. That doesn't mean you should nevershop but only buy what you can afford/own do not live off of credit.

    All these *underground vault fires* that are happening will continue to get worse as we have Non English speaking people run the system and public funding cut or misused.

    Liberals misuse public funding to fund abortion/naked butts as concept art. Republicans just cut back without any real growth. They are both fighting for their own version of a one world power based structure.

    The RFID chip will be the key ID for you cannot buy or sell without it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      Well you sure do know how to grow a good crop of derp, so you should be fine.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:53am

      Re:

      Your best bet is to learn to live off the land instead of being a consumer/waster.

      Great idea. Please go live off the land, as soon as possible. Preferably somewhere without electricity or wifi access.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 3:49am

    "FCC intends to do nothing about any of this"

    Of course not. Why would the FCC want to out their own spam bot?

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

  • identicon
    David Clare, 1 Jun 2017 @ 8:18pm

    I went "here" to make a comment to the fcc but wtf do I do? That shit is so confusing no normal people are commenting on net neutrality to the fcc.

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

  • icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 3 Jun 2017 @ 4:09am

    Was a comment deleted?

    This is weird. I just reloaded this page to check whether there had been new comments, and the listed "number of comments" immediately below the article went down by one - from 38 to 37.

    I've never seen that happen on Techdirt before.

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

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 5 Jun 2017 @ 4:29am

      Re: Was a comment deleted?

      I've now seen it happen on a the recent Aussie-catering-company article, and there are still several of the recent large-block-of-Chinese-text spam posts there; I've flagged them as spam, but they aren't hidden yet.

      Hypothesis: Something is going through the hidden-because-flagged posts looking for ones which are actually blatant spam, and deleting what is found.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2017 @ 4:37am

    A test case

    As a test case, write a bot that adds a few thousent pro-net-neutrality comments under the names of FCC chairmen, sitting US presidents etc.

    Then count the number of days these messages remain visible on the site.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.