Seattle paid $17.5K to "manage" online rep of public utility CEO

The City of Seattle paid $17,500 to Brand.com to enhance the "online reputation" of City Light, its public utility, and Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, asking them to "lessen the prevalence of any negative or less-relevant stories" in search results for the utility or the CEO, who was the highest-paid public employee in the city, with a salary of $245,000.

It's not clear what sort of bad news about Carrasco or City Light Brand.com was trying to push off the front page of Google results, but their promised methodology included placing favorable paid articles with the Huffington Post and Examiner.com, as well as "doctorate level content" written by "influential bloggers."

The Huffington Post says that it was unaware if Damon Banks, the writer who published a favorable piece about Carrasco and his utility, was being paid by Brand.com, but if he was, they'd no longer accept work from him. Banks did not reply to a request for comment from the Seattle Times.

Here's the action plan [PDF] that the city and Brand.com drew up for City Light and Carrasco's online reputation polishing.

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FCC Chairman's competition promise means nothing


Cable lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to "balance" his attempt to nuke Net Neutrality by promising to override state laws that prohibit cities from setting up their own broadband networks. But it's a largely meaningless gesture: practically every big city in America is locked into a decade-long contractual "franchise" arrangement with a big cable company.

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T-Mobile: your dead dad's active phone will let you stay in touch

Robert, a Consumerist reader, called up T-Mobile to close his dead father's cellular account; the rep suggested that he should keep paying for it so he could listen to his dad's voice on the voicemail message whenever he wanted.

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One weird trick for sleazy marketing success

Armed with a cheap laptop and a pre-paid debit card, Alex Kaufman figures out what happens when you actually buy something from on one of those “One Weird Trick” ads. [Slate]

Don't use Marriot hotels' sleazy Wi-Fi

Brian X. Chen for the New York Times: "The hotel’s Internet service was secretly injecting lines of code into every page he visited, code that could allow it to insert ads into any Web page without the knowledge of the site visitor or the page’s creator. (He did not actually see any such ads.)"
Guest Justin Watt's full report has that air of mounting frustration so many of us now associate with hotel travel. The best parts of Chen's story are where Courtyard Marriot is such an organizational disaster that it can't even figure out what spokesperson is responsible for replying to the Times' inquiries; and where the WiFi provider, RG Nets, "quickly hung up on calls."

Update: Watt has added a statement received from Courtyard Marriot, in which it blames RG Nets and says the script insertion occurred "unbeknownst" to it. However, the hotel chain also claims it is "a common marketing practice with many Internet service providers".

Trying to close your AOL account is suspicious activity

A few days ago, AOL fired the staff developing AIM, its long-running instant messaging system. Having done this, it reset user accounts, locking them out of third-party IM clients until they confirmed and updated decade-old personal information. Having done so, I was displeased at such a shameless data mining ploy and tried to cancel AOL/AIM entirely. This is what resulted:

Bear in mind that I was already logged in and could change any account setting I pleased. Who knew that when AOL said it has "no plans" to end service, it was responding to customer demands?

Mugshot sites and mugshot removal sites: unholy blackmail symbiosis

Wired's David Kravets has a long look at the sleazy world of online mugshot blackmail. Rob Wiggen, a convicted fraudster, founded Florida.arrests.org when he got out of prison. It scrapes Florida's law enforcement websites and builds a Google-indexable database of mugshots of people who've been arrested, making no distinction between people who are convicted, people whose charges are dropped, people who are acquitted, and even includes children as young as 11. Each is titled with the person's name and captioned like so: "Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail." These show up in Google's search-results for the named people.

Companies like RemoveSlander.com and RemoveArrest.com charge hundreds of dollars to get images removed from arrests.org (arrests.org is festooned with lucrative, automatically placed ads for RemoveArrests, thanks to Google's ad-matching algorithm). They claim to use some "proprietary" process to do this, but Kravets speculates that they're just paying $19.90 and using the poorly signposted removal service offered by arrests.org itself.

It's a nasty story about the downside of government transparency, and Steven Aftergood from the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists worries that it'll be a poster-child for attacking sunshine laws like Florida's open records system.

For $399, RemoveSlander promises to take that fight to florida.arrests.org, and force Wiggen to remove a mug shot. RemoveSlander’s owner, Tyronne Jacques — the author of How to Fight Google and Win! — said the removal fee pays for his crack legal team to deal with florida.arrests.org, and to force Google to get the URL removed from Google’s search index.

Asked how he accomplishes that, Jacques told Wired.com it was “a trade secret.” A recent press release from the company called the work “daunting.”

“It can’t happen by magic,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are legal means that we use…. There is a tremendous amount of work to get the photos down...”

Wiggen said he has provided RemoveSlander an URL for an automated takedown script on his site. A PayPal payment of just $9.95 will automatically purge a mug shot from the site. For an expedited removal from Google’s index, which Wiggen’s code performs through Google’s Webmaster tools interface, the fee is $19.90. Wiggen said other removal sites also make use of that same URL, but he declined to name them.

RemoveSlander “presses a button and makes a payment, and my website handles it automatically,” Wiggen said.

Founder Ron Wiggen does not include his own mugshot in the arrests.org database.

Mug-Shot Industry Will Dig Up Your Past, Charge You to Bury It Again

(Image: Robert Wiggen's 2005 mug shot, Leon County Sheriff's Office)