Surprise! Buzzfeed Links Bogus Net Neutrality Comments Directly To Broadband Industry

from the fake-plastic-trees dept

We've long discussed how the Pai FCC's net neutrality repeal was plagued with millions of fraudulent comments, many of which were submitted by a bot pulling names from a hacked database of some kind. Millions of ordinary folks (like myself) had their identities used to support Pai's unpopular plan, as did several Senators. Numerous journalists like Jason Prechtel have submitted FOIA requests for more data (server logs, IP addresses, API data, anything) that might indicate who was behind the fraudulent comments, who may have bankrolled them, and what the Pai FCC knew about it.

Those efforts have slowly been paying off. Back in January, Gizmodo linked some of the fake comments to Trump associates and some DC lobbying shops like CQ Roll Call. This week, Buzzfeed went even further, drawing a direct line between the fake comments and the broadband industry:

"A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on an analysis of millions of comments, along with court records, business filings, and interviews with dozens of people — offers a window into how a crucial democratic process was skewed by one of the most prolific uses of political impersonation in US history. In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause."

Broadband For America, who we've discussed previously, pretends to be a coalition of "consumer groups" and other interests "dedicated to protecting a free and open internet for all Americans." But it's little more than a cut out for Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other industry giants. Via a slow and painstaking FOIA process, Buzzfeed ultimately linked many of the stolen identities to major data breaches like the hack of modern business solutions by matching the fraudulent names via the hack database at HaveIBeenPwned.

Just in case the lede gets buried here: the broadband industry hired shady goons to use stolen data to create fake public support for anti-consumer tech policy. And nobody (especially the FCC) has done a damn thing about it.

Granted the net neutrality repeal is just one of many examples of lobbyists polluting regulatory comment periods (usually the only time consumers are allowed to give feedback on policy decisions) with fake people, and both Media Bridge and LCX Digital appear to have other clients beyond just the broadband sector:

"The anti–net neutrality comments harvested on behalf of Broadband for America, the industry group that represented telecommunications giants including AT&T, Cox, and Comcast, were uploaded to the FCC website by Media Bridge founder Shane Cory, a former executive director of both the Libertarian Party and the conservative sting group Project Veritas. Cory has claimed credit for “20 or 30” major public advocacy campaigns in recent years, including, he says, record-setting submissions to the IRS, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and “probably a handful of others."

Classy! Given that both the DOJ and the NY Attorney General are (supposedly still) conducting ongoing inquiries into the fake net neutrality comments, this may not be the last time you'll see these lobbying shops' names in lights. Meanwhile it's rather ironic that the same week a court ruling comes down supporting (mostly) the FCC's repeal, a big chunk of the "public support" for the repeal -- and the FCC's primary justification for it (that the rules stifled broadband investment) -- were clearly proven to be fraudulent. So far, one gets the sneaking suspicion the US legal system may just be broken.

Filed Under: ajit pai, broadband, fake comments, fcc, identity fraud, net neutrality
Companies: at&t, broadband for america, comcast, lcx digital, media bridge, verizon


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 6:34am

    I guess having every repeal net neutrality comment coming from Ajit Pai would have been too obvious.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 7:28am

    I’m shocked.

    😐

    See? That’s my shocked face.

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

  • identicon
    David, 4 Oct 2019 @ 7:53am

    Gee, so many negatives.

    Just in case the lede gets buried here: the broadband industry hired shady goons to use stolen data to create fake public support for anti-consumer tech policy. And nobody (especially the FCC) has done a damn thing about it.

    You sound upset. Do you want free credit monitoring? No need to provide your data and authorization, we already have it.

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

    • icon
      radix (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:18am

      Re: Gee, so many negatives.

      Everybody already has free credit monitoring. Maybe apply for a settlement check of up to approximately $2.13?**

      ** Supplies limited, application does not guarantee approval, attorney's fees will be deducted, average payment is $0.46.

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re: Gee, so many negatives.

        Ah, such a nefarious, underhanded methodology to double (or so) the penalty to the settling company. It will cost them around that much to generate the check and mail it to you. That it does nothing to even make the harmed even feel better is an added, non monetary, bonus.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:45am

        Re: Re: Gee, so many negatives.

        average payment is $0.46.

        You forgot about the $0.46 payment processing fee.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 7:55am

    'So far, one gets the sneaking suspicion the US legal system may just be broken'

    fuck me! not took you long to realise/state that! what is even worse is that the USA influences, through any means at it's disposal, so many other countries and governments it's a wonder that we ordinary people world wide aren't being led around in chains, slaves to whichever giant corporation that wants to use us at the time, while continuing to wipe out/ignore any and all rights we're supposed to have (having fought for them for hundreds of years!)

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

    • icon
      Bt Garner (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 9:01am

      Re:

      I think the legal system is broken, but probably not in the same way that most do. The problem, from my perspective, is that there is no penalty for those who refuse to do their job and punish those who abuse the public trust. I am not sure that there is any quick remedy to that situation either, other than voting out those elected officials who practice the Sgt Schultz defense of "I SEE NOTHING!"

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

  • icon
    lucidrenegade (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:02am

    Were the number of comments both for and against ever released?

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

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      Depends on who you ask.

      If you ask Broadbamd For America, whose methodology dumped real comments made by those who wanted to protect their emails from being scraped to make fraudulent comments while including all the fake comments, then 70% of the comments supported Pai's Restoring Internet Fuckery order.

      If you ask Stanford University, whose methodology eliminated all bot- and form- based comments, and only looked at the 800k custom-written comments, 99.97% opposed the removal of NN.

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

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:09am

    Legal System?

    'So far, one gets the sneaking suspicion the US legal system may just be broken'

    I can't think of a system of the U.S. government that isn't broken.

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

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 7 Oct 2019 @ 11:26am

      Re: Legal System?

      As long as "companies are people" and "money is speech", per SCOTUS decisions, this is not going to get better.
      Those are not quite the exact terms of their decisions, but they are a pretty good summary of how lobbying has reached the status of "legal bribery" in the US.
      These need to be either reversed or overruled with new laws. Obviously, this is going to be an uphill battle as the ones who can change the law are the ones benefiting from the status quo.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 8:11am

    Richard Bennett's team, frauds? I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked!

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

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 9:48am

    I think at this point we should start pointing out the not-so-shady parts of the US government. The list would be shorter.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      Is that list > or < than 1?

      I would be like to see any nominations for that list. Maybe FDIC, or have they committed some nefarious act I am not aware of?

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

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      start pointing out the not-so-shady parts of the US government

      Is there a US Bureau of Protecting Things From Sunlight? It would be on the list.

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:48am

        That would be the Bureau of Unique Radioactivity Neutralizing Systems. I hear they’re coming up with a plan to block the harmful effects of the sun.

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:50am

        Re: Re:

        It might, until it made going outside illegal, to protect the children, you know.

        The alternative would be to require SPF 4000, which would be a mud pack covering all exposed skin. This, though would be in conflict with the facial recognition industry, as well as the surveillance state.

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

    • identicon
      Robert Beckman, 6 Oct 2019 @ 2:06am

      Re:

      The CIA isn’t shady. They’re honestly engaged in subterfuge.

      No one expects a spy to tell you the truth, but when the FBI lies to you it feels much worse.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:30am

    For all the Glory

    A nation that Prides itself on the ideals of???? Ooops I think we forgot those. Companies that sit around with FAKE/FALSE names that do the Reverse of what is said/spelled out in the names. Corps who Screw the people.. so all they have to do is Collect the bills, and not improve this country. Cutting The Gov. employee roles to the point our Gov. cant do much of anything.. the only persons getting money BACK from Cutting the personnel, TENDS to be the rich..with Tax cuts so great, they arnt TAXED. the Fundamentals of Economy and how it works is thrown OUT the fricking window. the idea of having SMART people help control the workings of the gov. is NILL, as most only learned 1 thing in all of their lives... Love political families Paying off the Schools to make kids look good. Love the news Statements that this is the longest war...WHAT WAR? Why the hell are we still at war? Except to piss off the middle east. Or to reinforce the Control of the leaders in those countries.. 3000 killed int he USA, 100,000 Taliban killed world wide, 100,000+ innocent bystanders killed in Afghanistan(alone) And that was over 5 years ago. do you think those 100,000 innocent fix those 3000 killed or does it just Piss more people off? https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ywd5/white-house-acknowledges-the-us-is-at-war-in-seven -countries WHY in hell are we paying for this?

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

  • identicon
    TDR, 4 Oct 2019 @ 11:23am

    So can this information, this proof that the comments in support of the repeal were fraudulent, be brought up in the appeal to the court's decision and used to get the rules back in place while nullifying any and all actions the Pai FCC has done in relation to this over all this time?

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

  • identicon
    A Guy, 4 Oct 2019 @ 12:48pm

    Wow, real widespread RICO by the incredibly wealthy. People who suffer lost profits may actually be able to sue the telecom companies for triple damages.

    IANAL. Some ask Ken White if this looks like actual RICO.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 1:28pm

    And now nothing will happen

    Because you are challenging the Empire.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:34pm

    Careful What You Wish For (or Machinate "Quia Munera")

    I used to be WAY more worried about this. Then I saw the responses at the level of the individual states, who, surprisingly enough, seem not to have been adequately pre-bribed. Looks like the states are going to make life a living hell of litigation (and possibly huge expenses related to court costs and/or new bribes).

    Best of all, when (I say "WHEN" not "IF" since that is my expectation) we get our next sane gov't, we'll put regulation back under the FCC, reinstate net neutrality, and override any bribe-induced non-neutral state laws.

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

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2019 @ 8:50am

    No way!

    Next you're going to tell me Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11!

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


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