Tag Archives: reputation management

Spear-phishing, the last refuge for scoundrels who don’t even have patriotism

So I’ve been getting a lot of these lately:

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 7.35.20 PMIt’s an e-mail (often from a @zoho.com address), sending what looks like an article from El Universal, the Venezuelan newspaper. Oh, here’s one that specifically tries to look like it’s from El Universal: Continue reading

Venezuela’s reputation protection racket using Crowdflower

Alek Boyd has the story. Very nice follow-up on this whole reputation protection story. Long story short: whoever is protecting reputation for the Bolibourgeoisie (denials notwithstanding, quite likely this cat called Rafael Núñez) is now using the services of the consummate startup Crowdflower to boost search rank of some of his or her clients. Lukas Biewald, one of the founders of Crowdflower used to work on search relevance at Yahoo. And his tools are now being used to screw up search relevance. Go figure.

Alek also gives a bit more about the convicted terrorist murderer and now reputation management beneficiary Ramiro Helmeyer. Go give a read.

Who else abuses Wikipedia? You won’t be surprised

Vice and the Daily Dot have reported on a big network of “sock puppets,” or undisclosed related parties on the Internet, who have been manipulating Wikipedia to boost the profile and reputation of companies on behalf of a PR firm. Ars Technica reports today that Wikipedia has now disabled 250 user accounts as part of its investigation.

However, as Daily Dot mentions, there are still many paid editors and sock puppets on Wikipedia. One company that has aggressively used paid editors and socks to first seek to eliminate its page entirely, and later to edit the page to be as positive as possible, is Derwick Associates.

I wrote about Derwick Associates benefits from aggressive reputation management efforts a couple months ago. At the time, a long-time Wikipedia editor wrote me to tell me how Derwick also benefits from someone apparently hiring people to cleanse the company’s Wikipedia page. The person requested anonymity so as to continue monitoring the site unmolested. According to our correspondent, the saga of Derwick’s page went like this:

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Setty isn’t an extortionist

The article that I published a month ago regarding online reputation management provoked excellent discussion and also a disturbing response. In an apparent reaction to that article, someone posted at least three websites that sought to defame me and repost personal photos from the Facebook pages of people close to me.

It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but just to be clear, those pages are a bunch of made-up BS. I’m not in hiding, I have no connection to any cocaine traffickers, I’m not wanted by Interpol, I’ve never invited nor accepted any sort of payment to withhold publishing news, I’m not wanted for extortion in California or anywhere else, I’ve never used fake travel documents, and I didn’t send the pictured e-mail. The statements and their implications are simply made up from someone’s imagination.

If you have any questions or doubts, please write me. I am posting this right now because I know that unanswered attacks can just fester and be considered true. It’s tempting to go the legal route and try to get these blogs removed, but that’s expensive and time-consuming*, plus I generally believe that the answer to bad information is not censorship but rather good information.

While these attacks do nothing to reveal who I am, they do show that my reporting made someone nervous. That person apparently didn’t see a rational way to refute my article and instead resorted to unscrupulousness. The attack appears to have violated Twitter’s terms of service and also revealed a possible link to Venezuela’s biggest private-sector bank. 

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Thanks and welcome and results

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 2.21.01 AMWelcome new readers, much obliged for all the attention to the reputation management story. An honour to be “Boinged” for the first time. Yesterday was this site’s highest readership in its three-year history. I guess taking 8 months to put together a blog post can pay off sometimes.

I need to just make a couple little clarifications. First of all, about the headline. The fact is, I don’t really care who protects the reputation of the Bolibourgeoisie. If it’s not one person, it will be another.

The point here is that the forces of opacity are winning in Venezuela. Now that the story is out (and so far no response from those mentioned), it’s worth mentioning that this story was turned down by a couple Venezuelan and a couple US media outlets. The US ones I am more sympathetic toward — it’s a weird foreign story and sadly, most people in SF or NY don’t know or care much about South America. But in Venezuela, I suspect it was rejected out of fear. This, for example: the government can cut off your supply of newsprint, sue you, and generally make your life miserable if you print the wrong thing. That makes news reporting difficult.

If news people around the Americas want to offer a bit of solidarity to their beleaguered colleagues in Venezuela, one way would be to support reporting on that country. Not just quoting Michael Shifter and Otto Reich again and again, but actually learning about what’s happening in Venezuela and reporting new, different stories. Ideally, hiring some of our skilled local colleagues and not counting on fools like me who haven’t even stepped foot in the country in over a year. Venezuela is the land of low-hanging scandal fruit. After seeing a news item in Business News Americas, I was able to show that PDVSA’s new insurance broker was shady. It took about an hour of actual work, maybe less. Yes, an insurance trade mag had the story first. But behind a very high paywall. I don’t claim to have scooped it, just that it’s a story anyone could have had.

This reputation story may have had a few minor effects. I see that all these sites are now offline: pornonomia.com, fustigado.com, modaenvenezuela.com, santosocorro.com, tomalaruta.com, pulcrolimpio.com, reparandoelcarro.com, teteracaliente.com, vientosdeboda.com, hottiesinamerica.com, informecandela.com, bebesano.com.ve, mueretedelarisa.com.ve, bebesano.com.ve, miralabelleza.com.ve, comoanilloaldedo.com.ve, elttdehoy.com.ve, comegatos.com.ve, comersano.com.ve, mientrasdormia.com.ve, modelosvenezuela.com.ve, venezolanosemprendedores.com, melonblues.com.

Google.com, the world’s most-used search engine, appears to have blacklisted all sites related to this whole reputation management effort. For example, Alek Boyd points out that the site Capsula Informativa is live, but a Google search for derwick site:capsulainformativa.com returns no results.

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Searches on Bing still bring up results at the fakey sites.

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I guess that’s why Google is the world’s most-used search engine.

More subtly, I see that Google has quite changed the search results for “Ramiro Helmeyer”. His personal pages are now lower down, while the stories about his role in the 1990s terror campaign in Caracas take up most of the first screen of hits.

And I see that Rafael Núñez brought back his Twitter feed, but blocked me. I don’t take it personally.

Who protects reputation for the Bolibourgeoisie?

Update: This post had some effect in the world, including the disappearance of a bunch of websites. Sorry for dead links. More follow-up here.

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 2.23.22 PMDerwick Associates is a Bahamas Bermuda*-based electricity contractor that has had great success selling power plants to Venezuelan state-owned enterprises. Those efforts have attracted attention from the press and, most recently, from former US ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich, who sued two principals of Derwick for alleged interference with business and racketeering, also accusing them of bribery in Venezuela.

Derwick is the beneficiary of an aggressive on-line reputation management campaign. If you search the internet for terms associated with the company, such as the names of the two principals Reich accused, “Pedro Trebbau Lopez” and “Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez,” you will find very few news articles about them. Some search engines, including Bing and DuckDuckGo, give an entire first page of spurious results (see image in upper left). Most of the results are for pages obviously designed to obfuscate, throwing banal dust into the eyes of the search engine and leaving a casual searcher with the incorrect impression that there’s nothing to see here. On Google, the first six results are such fluff. Ironically, one of the first serious articles to appear in these searches is an exposé by blogger Alek Boyd about Derwick’s reputation management.

Everyone has a right to protect reputation online. And I don’t much care if someone wants to spend time and money filling websites with celebrity gossip, sex advice or technology news interspersed with the names of Derwick’s newsmakers. Sure, I could join in the existential pondering about the future of knowledge and the internet itself (and that is a very good article!), but the 3,000 words in this post need no padding. Instead, I invite you to follow me down a maze of on-line clues that for the first time connect a host of Venezuela corruption scandals and hint at the possibility that a highly regarded Venezuelan security consultant may be connected to an online defamation campaign and even to a pair of denial-of-service attacks on blogs. Continue reading