Ripoff Report

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Ripoff Report
Ripoffreport.com screenshot 2007-08-29.png
Web address www.ripoffreport.com
Type of site
Consumer
Available in English
Created by Ed Magedson
Launched December 8, 1998
Current status Online

Ripoff Report is a privately owned and operated for-profit website founded by Ed Magedson. The Ripoff Report has been online since December 1998 and is operated by Xcentric Ventures, LLC which is based in Tempe, Arizona.[1]

Reports and rebuttals[edit]

The Ripoff Report allows users over the age of 14[2] to post free, un-moderated and uncorroborated complaints known as 'reports' which contain details of the user's experience with the company or individual listed in the report. The site requires users to create an account which includes an unconfirmed email address before reports can be submitted.[2] According to the site's Terms of Service, users are required to affirm that their reports are truthful and accurate, but the site admits that it neither investigates, confirms or corroborates the accuracy of submissions. Ripoff Report has more than 1 million pages indexed on Google.[3]

Companies who have been named in a report may choose to respond by submitting a "rebuttal" which explains their side of the story. There is no charge to submit a rebuttal, but users must first register for an account.

By creating a user account, a user agrees to exclusive venue in Arizona for any legal dispute arising out of the posting submitted by the user. In June 2013, a federal court in Maryland found that that this agreement did not prevent a user from suing the author of a report and Ripoff Report in Maryland, because the user agreement applied only to the rebuttal, not the report.[4]

"Non-removal" policy and exceptions[edit]

The Ripoff Report website claims that its stated policy is to refuse to remove reports. Ripoff Report states that it does not allow authors to remove their own reports, even in cases where a mistake has been made.[2] Furthermore, the site states it will generally not remove reports in response to legal demands from attorneys.[citation needed]

This stated policy is disclosed to users in the site's Terms of Service.[2] While Ripoff Report claims not to "remove" reports, Ripoff Report advertises that it will remove (alter) specific information or add positive content to reports for participants in its paid programs, the Corporate Advocacy and Remediation Program[5] and the VIP Arbitration Program.[6] The site represents that all complaints remain public and unedited, with the exception of redactions for prevailing participants in the VIP Arbitration Program.[7] A longer discussion of the policy is found on the site's Frequently Asked Questions page.[8] In May 2013, Ripoff Report started offering a new service called "RipoffReport Verified" that allows paying members 14 days to resolve complaints before they are posted, for $89.95 a month.[9][10]

Plaintiffs have also attempted to force Ripoff Report to remove reports by suing the author and obtaining an injunction requiring the removal of the offending content. In one recent case, Blockowicz v. Williams, 675 F.Supp.2d 912 (N.D.Ill. 2009), a federal district court in Chicago found that Ripoff Report was not required to comply with such an injunction because it had not been named a defendant in the original lawsuit.[11] Some observers have stated this outcome was legally correct but morally troubling.[12]

There have also been threats of violence[13] and code injection attacks[14] by reputation management companies against Ripoff Report.

Despite its claimed history of refusing to remove complaints, in July 2010, Ripoff Report announced a new program called "VIP Arbitration" which has the stated purpose of offering victims of false reports a new way to clear their names.[15] According to the site, the arbitration program involves private third-party arbitrators who are paid to review disputed reports and render decisions about their accuracy.[15] Although Ripoff Report claims to refuse to remove reports, the site now explains: "Any statements of fact that the arbitrator determines to be false will be redacted from the original report."[16] The site has also posted an updated FAQ page with an additional discussion of the arbitration program. The page includes links to examples of how reports look after being submitted to the program.[citation needed] The current cost of the program is $2,000.[citation needed]

Litigation involving the Communications Decency Act[edit]

According to a United States law called the Communications Decency Act, under 47 U.S.C. § 230(c), websites like the Ripoff Report are excluded from certain forms of civil liability seeking to treat the site as the "publisher or speaker" of user-generated content. For certain claims, the exclusion from liability applies for material contributed by third parties that is false, and even if the site does not take any steps to investigate content prior to publication or remove content after receiving notice that the material is false.[17] Protection also extends to editorial changes made by the website operator itself, as long as such editing does not alter the meaning of the original third-party content.[18]

Lawsuits have been filed against the Ripoff Report based on theories that the site is not excluded from liability for certain causes of action by reason of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, either because certain activities of Ripoff Report render the site itself an "information content provider" (and thus cause it to lose the exclusion from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (e.g., its alleged solicitation of defamatory content, its purported refusal to remove content which is false, and its alleged alteration and/or modification of reports or their titles) or because certain claims (e.g., extortion) would not be excluded from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For a variety of reasons, none of these cases have ever reached trial.

Other legal actions[edit]

Many companies and individuals have sued Ripoff Report.[19] [needs update] Ripoff Report has also sued many commentators that have been critical of it.[citation needed]

Two Australians have sued Google over their failure to remove links to defamatory content on Ripoff Report. In February 2011 Dr Janice Duffy filed defamation proceedings in South Australia.[20] A trial has been set in the South Australian Supreme Court for June 2015. In February 2013 Jarrod Sierocki filed defamation proceedings in Queensland.[21]

In July 2013 the Government of India ordered a block on accessing the site[22] although no explanation was forthcoming as to why it had been blocked. As of August 7, 2013, the block has been removed.[23]

In May 2014 the search engine Yahoo!7 blocked the Ripoff Report after multiple defamation complaints.[24] Ripoff Report was unblocked by Yahoo!7 after approximately a week.[25] Some Ripoff Report webpages on many Australians are no longer indexed on Yahoo!7

Corporate advocacy program and extortion claims[edit]

Ripoff Report has received some criticism of its "Corporate Advocacy, Business Remediation & Customer Satisfaction Program,"[26] particularly whether Ripoff Report sufficiently discloses all facts that would influence the public's perception of the program.[27] Characterizations of the program differ from the viewpoint of courts, non-profit advocacy groups, and Ripoff Report itself.

Ripoff Report provides its own description of the operation of the program in detail on the Ripoff Report website's Corporate Advocacy Program page.[28] The page advertises with an illustration of how the Google search results will be altered for members who join the program.[29]

While Ripoff Report claims that existing reports are not removed, Ripoff Report's editor, Ed Magedson, will update the titles of reports to represent that the company has joined the program and has made a commitment to increasing customer satisfaction.

In February 2007 the Phoenix New Times reported that at least 30 companies at that time paid Ripoff Report for participation in the Corporate Advocacy Program.[30] Forbes contributor Adam Tanner, reported in 2013, that the corporate advocacy program ranges from $5,500.00 and can exceed $100,000.00, third-party arbitration starts at $2000.00.[31] The Forbes article links to a Search Engine Land article that explains that while the Ripoff Report is protected under the Communications Decency Act, a person authoring false or defamatory content is not, the author can be sued, and Google can be petitioned to de-list the posting when a court order specifies de-listing.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Federal Document listing address". News.justia.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Ripoffreport TOS". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "Google index of ripoffreport". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  4. ^ John C. Greiner (2013-06-25). "Is a Ripoff a minimum contact?". Lexology. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  5. ^ http://www.ripoffreport.com/assets/images/content/Pages/CAP/example_ripoff_article_lucas_after.jpg
  6. ^ "Synergy Capital & Insurance Complaint Review Gardena, California: 624941". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  7. ^ "VIP Arbitration Program. Remove Rip-off Report? Better yet! Ripoff Report VIP Arbitration Program. Reputation Repair & Reputation Management services can't deliver. Complaint Review Tempe, Internet, Arizona: 626838". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  8. ^ "Ripoffreport FAQ". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  9. ^ Pierre Zarokian (18 July 2013). "Ripoff Report Launches Verified, a New Program to Shield Businesses From Negative Reviews". 
  10. ^ "Ripoff Report Verified". Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Blockowicz v. Williams, 675 F.Supp.2d 912 (N.D.Ill. 2009), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
  12. ^ Masnick, Mike (2009-12-24). "Should A Site Be Forced To Takedown Content If A Court Rules Against The User?". Techdirt.com. Archived from the original on 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2010-09-20. 
  13. ^ "Police Blotter: Dark side of 'reputation defending' service". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  14. ^ Perry Chiaramonte. "EXCLUSIVE: Online reputation manager hacked websites to 'inject' illegal code". Fox News. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Scams, reviews, complaints, lawsuits and frauds. File a report, post your review. Consumers educating consumers". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  16. ^ "Ripoff Report Arbitration Page". Ripoffreport.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  17. ^ Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Citizens Media Law Project.
  18. ^ "Online Activities Covered by Section 230". Citmedialaw.org. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  19. ^ Han, Nydia (November 28, 2006). "Consequences of Complaining Online An Action News Consumer Special Report". 6ABC WPVI-TV Philadelphia. 
  20. ^ "Google being sued over Ripoff site". The Australian. 
  21. ^ "Google sued by Brisbane businessman Jarrod Sierocki for defamatory forum posts". Courier-Mail (Australia). 
  22. ^ Times of India: Government bans consumer complaints website, July 29th 2013
  23. ^ "Govt lifts ban from consumer complaint website". Daily.bhaskar.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  24. ^ "Yahoo7 Australia Drops Ripoff Report From Search Results After Defamation Complaints". Search Engine Land. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  25. ^ "Ripoff Report Is Back In Yahoo Australia's Search Results, But Not Completely". Search Engine Land. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  26. ^ "Florida Appeals Court Recognizes That Section 230 Immunity Extends to Injunctive Relief — Even When the Content Provider Collaborates in Seeking an Injunction (CL&P Blog)". Pubcit.typepad.com. 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  27. ^ http://www.citizen.org/documents/Giordano-Amicus-Brief-(2).pdf
  28. ^ "Scams, reviews, complaints, lawsuits and frauds. File a report, post your review. Consumers educating consumers". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  29. ^ "Scams, reviews, complaints, lawsuits and frauds. File a report, post your review. Consumers educating consumers". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  30. ^ The Real Rip-Off Report Ed Magedson calls himself an advocate. His enemies call him an extortionist. Fenske, Sarah. Phoenix New Times. (February 1, 2007).
  31. ^ Tanner, Adam (9 May 2013). "Love It Or Hate It, Ripoff Report Is In Expansion Mode". Forbes. Retrieved 14 December 2014. Asked about a comment alleging another woman had herpes, Magedson responds: "This f—— broad probably did something." He laughs when told about the downturn at Sarah Van Assche Interiors. If so much money was at stake, Magedson says, she should have sued her accuser for slander or paid Ripoff Report its $2,000 fee to conduct an arbitration. 
  32. ^ Hutcherson, Kenton (24 February 2011). "How To Remove Ripoff Reports From Google – Not Just Bury Them". Search Engine Land. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 

External links[edit]