The faceless man above has been outed by iMediaEthics. His name is David Pascual, and he is the person behind a ploy to exploit legitimate news content by tricking unwitting iGoogle members to sign up for news headlines directed to his sites instead of the legitimate news agency.
Pascual is the developer whose gadgets–such as Celeb-O-Matic.com–“borrow” legitimate newspaper and network names in order to misdirect traffic from these media outlets to his own “link farm” sites. From USA Today to the New York Times, the brand names of authentic media were slapped on iGoogle gadgets with news categories–health, gossip, finance and sports–in order to steer traffic to fake websites, set up solely to maximize profits from advertisers. imediaethics’s investigation has resulted in the wholesale removal by the developer of these deceptive gadgets from iGoogle. Pascual writes to imediaethics: “All the gadgets in question were promptly disabled as soon as this issue came to my attention.”
iMediaEthics discovered that this traffic-poaching scheme went way beyond the New York Daily News, which was the instance we initially reported had been hijacked. After notifying Google about the hijacked headlines of the Daily News, the newspaper contacted Pascual, who then told imediaethics that he immediately complied with the take down of the trademark-violating Daily News gadget as well as many other with bogus media outlet branding.
The scheme went well beyond the New York Daily News. We signed up for all sorts of these fake iGoogle’s news feed gadgets. Among these was the Boston Globe. Several fake Globe gadgets –sports, health, sports and finance–pretended to offer us boston.com content. As it had been with the New York Daily News, “Boston Globe Health News” or “Boston Globe Sports News” headlines both led to a series of sites that had nothing to do with obtaining The Boston Globe news feed. It was the old bait-and-switch.
We then signed up for “NYTimes.com” headlines. Again, the Pascual gadgets led to dummy sites–not The Times news feed or Web site. “New York Times Gossip”, anybody? How about “New York Times Crosswords Daily Technology” , “New York Times Finance News”, and “New York Times Health News” ? Signing up for any of these gadgets proved to be yet another sham.
Once we informed the New York Daily News of the deception, every other newspaper that we found had fallen prey to the same piracy last week has since been cleansed. The various gadgets have been disabled, just as Pascual informed us , and now provide an error message , as illustrated below, instead of phoney headlines.
The Developer And His Catch
The man behind the curtain, David Pascual, seems at first blush to have exploited iGoogle’s Gadgets pretty well for as long as it lasted.
Although most people accused of online trickery would sooner chew on rusted nails than chat with a media watchdog, Pascual (now living in Paris, France and working for a different company) to his great credit responded to some of our questions through e-mail. He claimed the articles on Celeb-O-Matic websites gadgets are news aggregations gadgets that source legitimate stories taken from the original media sources it names–such as the New York Daily News.
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But, in fact, this is not the case for the New York Daily News, the New York Times, or any other media outlets. His iGoogle gadgets say The New York Times or The New York Daily News headlines, misleading people into thinking they are signing up for media company’s real news feed–not the tacky Celeb-o-matic, AfterBeta, YourHealthTopics and others.
Pressed about the resulting deception when selecting the iGoogle gadget for the New York Daily News, Pascual accepted a lamb’s share in the wrongdoing. He suggested that only a few gadgets that had “slipped through” were misleading. Here is his statement:
“The gadgets with titles for outlets like ‘New York Daily New'” – which were a tiny percentage of the gadgets we have listed in the directory – were actually gadgets that collected information about the New York Daily News as a company and were not meant to convey that this information came from the New York Daily News. It was simply that, with the automated submission process of thousands of gadgets, a few slipped through that might cause confusion as to the source of the information.
“There was never any intention of misleading the end user or infringing on any trademarks, and the gadgets in question only drove a tiny amount of traffic to the aggregation sites, none of which are profitable. As soon as the issue was pointed out, any gadgets that could lead to confusion were promptly disabled. If you find any other problematic gadgets in the directory that have not yet been disabled, please let me know and they will be disabled immediately (you have to install them on your iGoogle page to see if they are disabled or not). Disabling the gadgets in question is the only thing I can do from my end to remedy the situation.”
But our investigation clearly found more than a few misleading gadgets. In fact, we stumbled onto a surprising array of famous media name brands that Pascual’s gadgets were poaching. We compiled a list of screen shots that show what these gadgets offerings looked like on an “Add Stuff” iGoogle page. Here are more examples in addition to The New York Times. and The Boston Globe: The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal , The Miami Herald and The Los Angeles Times.
If you go to the directory of news gadgets now and try to add the fake gadgets, you get an error message. Pascual said that he hopes Google will delete the list so the gadgets totally disappear, to wipe the slate clean. “I am waiting on Google to remove them from the directory entirely,” Pascual said.
Pascual declined to entertain any more questions after the first email exchange. Hopefully, we won’t have to contact him again.