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This attempt was temporarily effective in that we unpublished the story.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 email@example.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.