Documents Expose Yet Another Reputation Management Company Abusing Copyright Law To Bury Negative Content
from the using-this-one-simple-trick dept
For years, companies have been offering questionable services to downrank and bury information their customers don’t want surfacing during Google searches. And for years, these tactics have routinely involved abuse of copyright law, forged/faked court orders, and the filing of bogus lawsuits in hopes of securing default judgments from inattentive judges.
This is more of the same. Documents leaked to Forbidden Stories and shared with the Washington Post have uncovered the unsavory tactics (and even more unsavory customers) of Eliminalia, a Spain-based reputation management company with one hell of an origin story. This is from the Washington Post’s extensive report on the leaked documents, which details how Eliminalia founder Diego “Didac” Sanchez came to believe this company must exist:
When he was 12, he accused a local businessman of molesting him multiple times. The man was convicted of sexual abuse in a highly publicized trial and was imprisoned in 2007.
Years later, as a teenager, Sánchez publicly recanted his story, saying he had made it up. A panel of judges declined to overturn the conviction, however, citing additional evidence in the case, court records show.
Sánchez got news accounts of the abuse allegations removed from the internet, he wrote in the autobiography. He did not say how he did it, or what specifically was removed, but he wrote that he recognized a business opportunity.
Nothing in the documents suggests Sanchez decided to go into an extortion-like business by drumming up nasty allegations and making victims pay to have them removed from the internet. But that set of paragraphs sure seems to suggest it might have been a viable option.
Eliminalia does not seem to engage in any overt criminal activities. Instead, it appears to engage in a bunch of dishonest tactics. These tactics include creating fake sites to host (and backdate) copied content so the original could be targeted with bogus copyright claims. Here’s how this tactic works, as described in the Forbidden Stories article, which details interactions between a targeted publisher of critical journalism (Mexican reporter Daniel Sanchez) and the bogus persona concocted by Eliminalia (Humberto Herrera Rincon Gallardo) to get the content removed.
In January 2020, Gallardo filed a claim with Digital Ocean, Pagina 66’s US-based hosting provider, alleging that Sánchez had copied his content illegally. As proof, Gallardo linked to a third-party site that had published a replica of Sánchez’s piece, but with a falsified earlier publish date and fake author: Humberto Herrera Rincón Gallardo.
This time, the strategy worked. Digital Ocean ordered Sánchez to remove his article from Página 66’s site, or it would go black.
That was the tactic Eliminalia chose to go with after impersonating the EU Commission with a bogus takedown letter claiming GDPR violations: committing apparent perjury by faking up a copyright complaint.
Eliminalia also creates bogus news sites by the dozens, flooding the internet with low-value posts supposedly written by people who want worse content written about them buried.
Researchers from Qurium linked the 600 fake news websites to Eliminalia’s parent company, Maidan Holding, according to Tord Lundstrom, Qurium’s technical director. The websites’ IP addresses — each a string of numbers identifying where a site is hosted — are clustered together sequentially, Lundstrom said, and registration data from the websites’ hosting providers show that the IP addresses were assigned to Maidan.
The fake news sites contain real news copied from legitimate media organizations, and many have names that are similar to real outlets — the London New Times, CNNEWS Today and Le Monde France. But tucked amid those headlines are at least 3,800 articles that prominently feature the names of customers identified in the Eliminalia records…
So, the sort of stuff we’ve seen before, only on a much more massive and, apparently, lucrative scale. But given the company’s origins — a man trying to right a wrong he’d caused by wiping the internet of his false molestation accusation — Eliminalia seems more than willing to help far less altruistic people cover up evidence of their wrongdoing.
Its U.S. clients included a popular reality-TV personality publicly accused of sexual misconduct and a California biotech entrepreneur who had been convicted of financial fraud and is now fighting charges he hired a hit man to kill a business associate. The leader of a major religious charity in Chicago that faced criticism over its executives’ salaries also turned to Eliminalia, the records show.
Eliminalia did work for an Italian spyware company that had been fined for selling surveillance technology to Syria’s autocratic regime, and for a Swiss bank that had drawn public scrutiny over Venezuelan clients who were suspected of money laundering. It also worked on behalf of a well-known traveling circus clown who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Switzerland.
Here’s more, from Forbidden Stories’ reporting:
Forbidden Stories identified Eliminalia clients in 50 countries across five continents. The leak of around 1,500 current and former clients includes details of Eliminalia’s business dealings with a medical doctor who reportedly operated a torture center during Chile’s dictatorship and was found guilty of homicide; former bank officials at Banca Privada d’Andorra, accused of money laundering for corrupt Venezuelan officials; and a Brazilian businessman implicated in a global prostitution network, among others.
And now that this has been exposed by the documents and the great reporting at both of the above-mentioned sites, Eliminalia is attempting a disappearing act of its own. Reporters visiting its Barcelona office were informed it was now a company called “Idata Protection,” a (you guessed it) data protection service in no way affiliated with the work performed by the entity that owns it, Eliminalia. Its founder was also nowhere to be found.
Ugly tactics and even uglier customers. That’s not surprising. The entities that tend to seek out reputation management help are those that have destroyed theirs by being awful. For a little while, dodgy takedowns and black hat tactics actually get the job done. Sooner or later, though, it almost always seems to fall apart. But just as much as disintegration is inevitable, so is the rise of another company just as awful to take its place.