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Censorship Your Rights Online

Smearing Toddler Reputations Via Internet: Free Speech Or Extortion? 213

retroworks writes "Crystal Cox, a Montana woman who calls herself an 'investigative journalist,' was slapped with a $2.5-million judgment last year for defaming an investment firm and one of its lead partners. Cox had taken control of the Google footprint of Obsidian Finance and its principal Kevin Padrick by writing hundreds of posts about them on dozens of websites she owned, inter-linking them in ways that made them rise up in Google search results; it ruined Obsidian's business due to prospective clients being put off by the firm's seemingly terrible online reputation. After Obsidian sued Cox, she contacted them offering her 'reputation services;' for $2,500 a month, she could 'fix' the firm's reputation and help promote its business. The Forbes Article goes on to describe how she tried to similarly leverage attorneys and journalists reputations. Finding some of her targets were too well established in google rank to pester or intimidate, Cox moved to family members, reserving domain names for one of her target's 3-year-old daughter. Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill makes the case that this clearly isn't journalism, and establishes a boundary for free speech online."
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Smearing Toddler Reputations Via Internet: Free Speech Or Extortion?

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  • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @06:55PM (#39566539)
    No, that isn't the key here at all. If she simply had decided she didn't like the name of the company and did the same thing, it is *still* defamation whether money was involved or not. The request for money to fix it just adds additional *criminal* acts of racketeering and extortion to the civil charges of defamation. The existing laws here were plenty.

    Google really isn't involved either. If I decided to defame you by posting "Caution: Known Cow Fondler" posters with your picture on every power pole in town, do you blame the utility company? No, you blame me and sue me for defamation. Trying to hold a third party responsible because their algorithm was gamed by one person involved in criminal acts is exactly the restraint on free speech that you want to avoid. Hold people responsible for their actions, but leave the tool makers alone.

    As another poster here noted: everything is working as intended, though likely with the major wrinkle that the business she sank in her scheme will probably never recover their losses or that $2.5m judgement.
  • by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <> on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @07:10PM (#39566669) Homepage Journal

    I think Google has a responsibility to do as much as they can to avoid having their algorithm gamed. But I don't think the responsibility is a legal responsibility in any way. It's a moral responsibility. And ultimately, it's something they need to do in order to maintain their edge in search quality, so it's a fiduciary responsibility as well. But it's not a legal responsibility.

    I don't think your power pole analogy as very apt. Google has a lot more to do with the message getting out than the power company does. I think a better analogy would be if your neighbor figured out how to send signals down the power line that blew out your gadgets. The power company should keep that from happening, but it's not their fault from a civil or criminal legal liability standpoint.

  • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:01PM (#39567139)
    My point is that you don't hold the tool maker at fault when somebody misuses their tools. From a business standpoint you're right, they absolutely should make their algorithm as robust as possible. But a tool is designed for a task, there is only so much you can do to design in ways to keep it from being mis-used and it's an uphill battle against diminishing returns. The problem is, once you start saying they have an ethical responsibility to prevent that sort of gaming you end up in a mindset where a lawyer could convince a jury of it and hold them legally responsible *and* it draws attention away from the actual malicious acts by the perpetrator.
  • Re:Easy Fix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:22PM (#39567311)

    Sometimes when someone is being an ass you have to take matters into your own hands.

    Exhibit A []

  • by droopus ( 33472 ) * on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @11:10PM (#39568267)

    I had the dubious honor of having to deal with this piece of shit about two years ago.

    Many years ago, I worked on a project called Movielink [] which was one of the first "download now, watch later" movie services, originally under the auspices of Sony Pictures. We launched a beta site in 2001, and I left to work on other projects.

    Ten years later, I was contacted by one of the (ex) Sony Pictures folks, asking for help with a net stalker. All he had was a bunch of threatening emails, one of which had been sent from a standard mail client not Hush or a remailer. The IP was pretty easy, since it pointed to a group of properties (on one big plot) all owned by this Cox woman. (150 Grave Creek Rd, Eureka, MT 59917, 710 Grave Creek Rd, Eureka, MT 59917, 830 Grave Creek Rd Eureka, MT 59917) Once uncovered, she pulled out the stops and registered every possible permutation of my friend's name with "fuck" preceding or appended to each name. She must have registered fifty domains, and was making ridiculous claims about patent theft, and directly asking my friend for money to "shut down her investigative efforts."

    We got lucky, I guess. In the cleartext email, she directly threatened my friend that she would "ruin him just for fun." Since she was in court with Obsidian, I wrote an amicus (jailhouse lawyer, remember? B) and promised I would send it to the Court and Obsidian's counsel the next day if she didn't transfer every domain with my friends name to him immediately. No threats. We never heard from her again, but every domain was transferred to my friend.

    Her site still tops her own Google results. Why is this still a civil issue?

  • Re:That's Dumb (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chrisje ( 471362 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2012 @03:09AM (#39569167)

    My country being one of them. In the Netherlands, prostitution is indeed legal, but pimping is not. So the ladies are only really allowed to work if they're not the victim of slave trade or extortion. This measure is only partially effective, unfortunately, because some of the ladies are arguably extorted into the business. However, I think the system is vastly superior to zero-tolerance policies such as in Sweden or the US, where prostitutes don't get health care, can't unionize and are usually run out of seedy apartments or neighborhoods.

    Having said that, mainland Europe also does not have the litigation culture the US and UK have. One cannot sue people willy nilly. Firstly because one actually doesn't have a service level agreement on paper with a prostitute, so it's pretty much your word against hers, so there's usually very little reason for a court case.

    Secondly because frivolous litigation is frowned upon, and this type of stuff would immediately thrown out by a judge. If one actually gets robbed, one could alert the police, and they could technically take action, resulting in prosecution with a minimal amount of damages, more like restitution than actual damages.

    IANAL, but I do work as a pre-sales consultant for e-Discovery software for an American company, and I guarantee you that the American's view on the legal system is a hugely different one from what's practiced in mainland Europe.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.