Monday, April 09, 2007

Overstock.com's Wiki-Spamming Adventures


IP address 65.116.113.10 (Overstock.com to you) hard at work

Overstock.com is obsessed with Wikipedia. This blog and O-Smear have described how Overstock's resident stalker, former Republican dirty trickster Judd Bagley, has systematically vandalized Wikipedia. Among other things, he has threatened a Wiki administrator and turned the Overstock.com article into a press release. CEO Patrick Byrne has contributed to an anti-Wikipedia website and and fixated on a Wiki administrator in Overstock's antisocialmedia.net corporate smear site.

That turns out to have been just the appetizer. The terrific O-Smear blog has found that Patrick Byrne's red-ink machine has been spamming articles unrelated to his company, in violation of Wiki rules and Lord knows what else. The blog also found that even before Bagley arrived on the scene, Overstock was trying persistently, despite opposition from Wiki editors, to trace the Internet addresses of Wikipedia users.

The spying is expected -- hey, this is a company that has a cyberstalker on the payroll, after all. But the spamming is a new and potentially damaging revelation, because it was done anonymously (albeit traceably), without Overstock disclosing that it slipping in free ads for itself.

Here is an excerpt from the OSmear blog:

Even more ironic is the subtle SPAM by Overstock in these edits.

skibreckenridgecolorado.net
skiparkcityutah.net
skivailcolorado.net
skitellurideco.com
skicrestedbuttecolorado.net

I say subtle because these URLs are registered fairly ambiguously, but if you ping the domains and get the IP addresses of the servers, you get the following IPs:

65.61.187.30
65.61.187.34
65.61.187.32
65.61.187.25
65.61.187.24

These IP addresses are assigned to Ski West.

Ski West RSPC-59512-1114552345 (NET-65-61-187-0-1)
65.61.187.0 - 65.61.187.63
Ski West is (or was at the time) owned by Overstock.com, now called OTravel.
As you can see by clicking on the five links at the beginning of this excerpt, Overstock spammed articles on Vail, Breckenridge and other Colorado ski resorts. The company persisted in spamming Wikipedia, and drew a warning from a Wikipedia administrator.

Overstock's failed efforts to promote its ill-fated Ski West business -- a disaster that it is now selling -- may be one reason why Byrne is so single-mindedly obsessed with Wikipedia, and why a Wiki-wannabe, "OMuse," was selected as Bagley's make-work cover story.


I think these latest disclosures raise some interesting legal and ethical questions, including whether a company can write its own article on Wikipedia and insert "spam" ads into Wikipedia articles, without proper disclosure under SEC rules.

The main issue is an ethical one. And as usual with Overstock.com, corporate ethics are a non-issue. I sometimes wonder if words like "ethics" and "ethical behavior" are ripped out of the company's Webster dictionaries.

Let's hope that the Securities and Exchange Commission takes its responsibilities more seriously than Byrne and his lapdog board of directors.

UPDATE: O-Smear followed-up with this post. Of particular interest is a Bagley Wikipedia edit last Aug. 31 in which he spammed a link to a phony blog operated by Provo Labs. The"blog" was set up for the purpose of harvesting IP addresses. Bagley spammed this link after he supposedly severed his ties with Provo Labs.

Scipio notes that the blog link "points to a .php file which is a scripting language which would allow for more sophisticated processing than a more standard HTML file. In other words, there is little doubt this blog was created for the sole purpose of tracking people who clicked on it and should remove any doubt as to who was behind it."

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site, gary-weiss.com.

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