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.[1] The Ripoff Report has been online since December 1998 and is operated by Xcentric Ventures, LLC which is based in Tempe, Arizona.[2]

Reports and rebuttals[edit]

Ripoff Report allows users over the age of 14[3] to post uncorroborated complaints known as "reports" which allegedly contain details of the user's experience with the company or individual listed in the report. The site requires creating an account before reports can be submitted[3] but does not verify the identity of users, so anyone can invent a full name or use someone else's identity. Reports are not automatically added to the website: a person, who does not disclose their identity, must approve them first. According to the site's Terms of Service, users are required to affirm that their reports are truthful and accurate, but the site says that it neither investigates, confirms nor corroborates the accuracy of submissions, which therefore can also be completely made up.

Ripoff Report, having about 1 million pages indexed on Google,[4] generates massive amounts of textual content in order to attract web search engines[5] so the names of the companies and/or the individuals mentioned in the titles of the reports get high visibility on search engine results pages regardless of the veracity of the title or of the content.

Companies or individuals who have been named in a report may choose to respond by submitting a "rebuttal" at the bottom of the same webpage, which explains their side of the story if Ripoff Report approves their posting. There is no charge to submit a rebuttal, but they must first register for an account. Alternatively, to "repair the reputation"[1] because of something that is written in the website, Ripoff Report asks them to pay thousands of dollars through several kinds of "paid programs", which range from $2,000 to $100,000,[6] to have the webpage edited and turn it into a positive review, or even into an advertisement for the company that was named in the report. After a company agrees to pay, the webpage becomes a permanent showcase for the products and/or services that used to be reported, by means of long introductions containing a series of sentences like "TRUSTED BUSINESS Ripoff Report Verified™" or "this business continues to strive for 100% customer satisfaction",[7] plus video advertising depending on the "program" the company is paying for. Ripoff Report claims that "This is the best way to manage and repair your business reputation."[1]

In 2005, a 16-year-old girl claimed through Ripoff Report that two men named Sergey Brin and Larry Page were drunk and propositioning teenage girls in a coffee shop in California. Three years later, the name "Sergey Brin" was partly edited into "Soney Bonoi" by the webmaster.[8]

In 2009, a report also accused — with no evidence or witnesses — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of its emeritus professors of pedophile activities, sexual harassment and extortion.[9]

Moreover, undocumented reports can accuse a person of "using drugs" or "having sex with prostitutes",[10] even though the personal behavior has nothing to do with the report itself.

"Non-removal" policy and exceptions[edit]

The Ripoff Report website says that its stated policy is to refuse to remove reports in any case, and authors are not allowed to remove their own reports even in cases where a mistake has been made.[11] However, the site has edited and deleted reports/rebuttals anyway, such as the one claiming that "Sergey Brin" and "Larry Page" harassed underage girls in California,[8] thus contradicting its own policy.

While Ripoff Report claims not to remove reports, Ripoff Report advertises that it will remove or alter specific information and add positive content to reports for participants in its paid programs: the Corporate Advocacy and Remediation Program,[1][7] which costs up to about $100,000.00,[6] and the cheaper VIP Arbitration Program.[12] The site represents that all complaints remain public and unedited, with the exception of redactions for prevailing participants in the VIP Arbitration Program.[13] A longer discussion of the alleged policy is found on the site's Frequently Asked Questions page.[14]

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]

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.[17][18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

On the other hand, there is no guarantee that all the content is generated by third parties: nothing would prevent RipoffReport.com's webmaster from writing reports and claiming they were written by anonymous users.

Corporate advocacy program[edit]

Ripoff Report provides its own description of the operation of the program in detail on the Ripoff Report website's Corporate Advocacy Program page.[1] The page advertises with an out-to-date illustration of how the Google search results will be altered through "validated injections" for members who join the program,[21] stating that the (paid) program "is MUCH MORE than just damage control - It can help GROW your business by attracting consumers".[1] The illustrations suggest that paying members would get SEO benefits from Ripoff Report's modifications ("validated injections") to the pages containing reports/rebuttals. According to the page, "1. What can I do to get the complaint taken down so it doesn't appear in search engine listings?" "That's where" (paid) "Ripoff Report's Corporate Advocacy Business Remediation & Customer Satisfaction Program comes in."[1]

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.[22] 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.[6] 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.[23]

Other legal actions[edit]

By creating an account, a user agrees to exclusive venue in Arizona for any legal dispute arising from his or her posting. In June 2013, a federal court in Maryland found that that this agreement did not prevent a user from suing both the author of a report and Ripoff Report in Maryland, because the user agreement applied only to the rebuttal, not to the report.[24]

In the Blockowicz v. Williams case, 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 an injunction to remove reports because it had not been named a defendant in the original lawsuit.[25]

Two Australians 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.[26] In 2015, Duffy prevailed in her defamation case against Google for serving libelous comments, originating from Ripoff Report, and allowing its auto-complete function to assist users in finding the content. As of October 27, 2015, unresolved issues in the case are "...the defences of triviality and time limitation, the application for an extension of time, and causation and quantum of damages." [27][28] In February 2013, Jarrod Sierocki filed defamation proceedings in Queensland.[29] Sierocki won $287,788.00 in damages and interest against a former partner and client who were forced to admit that they had defamed SIerocki on Ripoff Report's un-redactable forum. A related case against Google appears to be working its way through the Australian courts as of April 23, 2015.[30]

In website pages of Public Citizen, it was noted that Ripoff Report has received some criticism of its "Corporate Advocacy, Business Remediation & Customer Satisfaction Program,"[31] particularly whether Ripoff Report sufficiently discloses all facts that would influence the public's perception of the program.[32]

In July 2013 the Government of India ordered a block on accessing the site. The block was removed the next month.[33]

In May 2014 the Australian search engine Yahoo!7 blocked the Ripoff Report after multiple defamation complaints.[34] It was unblocked after about a week.[35]

Ripoff Report's publisher, Xcentric Ventures, LLC, unsuccessfully sued consumers and their attorneys for malicious prosecution in federal district court in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011. In August 2015, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals published their order affirming the district court's order dismissing the case. The ruling notes that Xcentric had sued over the consumers' underlying attempted racketeering extortion claim, which "alleged that Xcentric attempted to extort money by encouraging third parties to post negative reviews, manipulating the posts to highlight negative reviews and to further highlight the negative reviews if the businesses posted rebuttals, and then charging high fees to 'turn the negative into a positive.'" "The claim was tenable because a district court had previously held that similar allegations stated an extortion claim against Xcentric," the 9th Circuit wrote in its order.[36]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "WHY CORPORATE ADVOCACY: YOUR REPUTATION IS IMPORTANT TO YOU". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  2. ^ "Federal Document listing address". News.justia.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  3. ^ a b "Ripoffreport TOS". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Google index of ripoffreport". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Rand Fishkin (2008-01-16). "Accusations that Rip-Off Report is just an Extortion Business". Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  6. ^ a b c 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. 
  7. ^ a b http://www.ripoffreport.com/assets/images/content/Pages/CAP/example_ripoff_article_lucas_after.jpg
  8. ^ a b "Report: Sergey Brin Category: Sex Offenders". 2005-05-31. Archived from the original on 2008-01-19. Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  9. ^ "Complaint Review: Noam Chomsky". 2009-03-02. Archived from the original on July 4, 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  10. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: British expat reputation ruined after 'untrue', slanderous comments were posted on Ripoff Report". 2015-08-05. Retrieved 2016-07-08. 
  11. ^ This stated policy is disclosed to users in the site's Terms of Service: "ROR is a permanent record of disputes, including disputes which have been fully resolved. In order to maintain a complete record, information posted on ROR, subject to the Terms outlined herein, will not be removed. By posting information on ROR, you understand and agree that the material you post will become part of ROR's permanent record and will NOT be removed even at your request." (3 July 2016)
  12. ^ "Synergy Capital & Insurance Complaint Review Gardena, California: 624941". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  13. ^ "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. 
  14. ^ "Ripoffreport FAQ". Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  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. ^ Pierre Zarokian (18 July 2013). "Ripoff Report Launches Verified, a New Program to Shield Businesses From Negative Reviews". 
  18. ^ "Ripoff Report Verified". Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  19. ^ Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Citizens Media Law Project.
  20. ^ "Online Activities Covered by Section 230". Citmedialaw.org. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  21. ^ "Scams, reviews, complaints, lawsuits and frauds. File a report, post your review. Consumers educating consumers". Ripoff Report. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  22. ^ 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).
  23. ^ Hutcherson, Kenton (24 February 2011). "How To Remove Ripoff Reports From Google – Not Just Bury Them". Search Engine Land. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  24. ^ John C. Greiner (2013-06-25). "Is a Ripoff a minimum contact?". Lexology. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  25. ^ Blockowicz v. Williams, 675 F.Supp.2d 912 (N.D.Ill. 2009), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
  26. ^ "Google being sued over Ripoff site". The Australian. 
  27. ^ Jenny Awford (27 October 2015). "Google found to have defamed Australian academic when its auto-complete function directed searchers to libelous comments about her". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 8 November 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  28. ^ Candice Marcus (27 October 2015). "Adelaide woman Dr Janice Duffy sues internet giant Google for defamation". ABC News AU. Archived from the original on 8 November 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015. He [Justice Malcolm Blue] ruled that Google did publish defamatory material about Dr Duffy and ordered the case proceed to trial on the remaining unresolved issues. 
  29. ^ "Google sued by Brisbane businessman Jarrod Sierocki for defamatory forum posts". Courier-Mail (Australia). 
  30. ^ Joshua Robertson (23 April 2015). "Record defamation payout of $287,788 awarded to Brisbane businessman". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 November 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015. The payout was four times as large as the previous highest amount awarded by a supreme court judge. 
  31. ^ "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. 
  32. ^ http://www.citizen.org/documents/Giordano-Amicus-Brief-(2).pdf
  33. ^ "Govt lifts ban from consumer complaint website". Daily.bhaskar.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  34. ^ "Yahoo7 Australia Drops Ripoff Report From Search Results After Defamation Complaints". Search Engine Land. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  35. ^ "Ripoff Report Is Back In Yahoo Australia's Search Results, But Not Completely". Search Engine Land. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  36. ^ http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/08/25/ripoff-report-publisher-hammered-in-9th-circ.htm

External links[edit]