The rise of corporate hate sites - lies, damned lies and extortion

news alert

London, UK - 02 December 2004, 20:30 GMT - The biggest digital risk problem keeping some senior executives awake at night is not hacking, viruses or network intrusion but corporate hate sites according to the one-to-one private interviews carried out with over 125 CEOs and CFOs of major global brands in North America, South America, Europe and Asia by the mi2g Intelligence Unit between December 2003 and November 2004. There are currently over 10,500 hate sites against major global brands on the internet. This compares to 1,900 hate sites at the end of 2000, 550 hate sites at the end of 1997, and just one hate site in 1995.

Hate groups once relied primarily on flyers, along with small-circulation newsletters and other publications to push out their propaganda. Today, they seek a global audience via hate sites, eMail distribution lists and blogs. They work on the principle that if enough mud is thrown on the corporate walls, some of it will stick. When that mud sticks, it becomes an opportunity to make their extortionate demands.

The corporate hate sites dissuade customers from buying a particular product or service and damage the revenue streams in a very measurable way. Corporate hate sites have also, in many well documented cases, caused a major public relations problem in terms of the resultant pressure from government watchdogs and access to capital markets. Other hate sites also include those that are anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Islamic, anti-gay, anti-abortion, as well as sites that promote racism, hate music and culture, neo-Nazism and bomb-making.

Hate sites cover a wide spectrum in terms of motivation and include well-intentioned grassroots efforts, organised activism, harmless first-person vitriol and more venomous, ruthless and malicious attacks. There are major hate sites beginning <I hate> or ending <sucks> or <myths> against many global entertainment companies, computing product manufacturers, financial services groups, utilities and retailers. In some prominent cases, there are several hate sites against one brand.

The internet has served hate groups in two specific ways: firstly, it has given those groups a sense of empowerment; and secondly, it has provided them with an unprecedented opportunity to market themselves - unhindered - at very low cost, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Trademark protection is a critical problem for companies. Firms that do not take an active role in protecting their trademarks risk diffusing them or losing control. This problem has increased dramatically since the explosive growth of the internet. Many companies, uncertain of the best approach to take amid rapidly changing technologies, have relied on legal responses. This approach may actually damage the company trademark. In most instances, the law is unable to keep pace with developing technologies. For example: Napster. Before the case could be litigated a new file-sharing technology had already emerged that made Napster technology obsolete. Whilst the music industry succeeded in damaging Napster, it could do not totally stop the infringement of their intellectual property and the drastic decline in revenues which has ensued.

In our own experience mi2g has been a victim of a vicious and long standing hate campaign for nearly five years, by a one-man-band who runs Vmyths.com. Its author Robert Rosenberger has been full of venom and hate directed continuously against mi2g and its senior management, exposing a dark and dangerous vendetta. He has pestered the mi2g switchboard and left long and high-pressure voice mails on many occasions about contracts-in-negotiation going back ten years that are based on false leads generated through incorrect interviews which he has conducted with former employees.

Whatever Vmyths writes about - total lies, some half-lies and figments of bizarre imagination - are all directed at garnering negative sentiments towards the anti-virus software and security industry. Mr Rosenberger entertains contact with former disgruntled employees to gather more gossip material for his hate campaigns and actively solicits such content. Vmyths flagrantly abuses copyright and trademarks by creating look-alike false web pages in the name of humour at another corporate entity's expense.

Ultimately all hate sites have more than one agenda. The one which is exposed and the several agendas which are hidden. The author of Vmyths appears to give the impression of being a stooge for large software vendors that would like the world to believe that there are no computer viruses or security problems at all. Most of the virus problems documented are myths, hence, Vmyths. Mr Rosenberger has never written against certain computing vendors for example that make particular operating systems and associated applications.

Vmyths would ideally like the world to believe that all computers function efficiently and security companies invent viruses and digital risk problems to cause operational difficulties and pick up business. Since digital risk problems are real, whose agenda is Mr Rosenberger furthering?

Some time back, mi2g received a missive from the owner of Vmyths.com to say that for a very substantial sum of money he will sell the Vmyths website to mi2g and then the negative content, which he is aware of, will stop. What is this if it is not extortion? In the first instance a lot of negative commentary is written against a corporate entity and its management, and then cash is demanded to take the content or website off-line.

These kind of hate site protagonists feel they are doing a service to the community but in some cases they end up becoming caricatures of their own material: clowns at best and extortionists at worst.

"The hate sites problem is a major one. The big focus for corporate executives is good public relations because that collective goodwill keeps the share price calm on the stock market" said DK Matai, Executive Chairman, mi2g. "A lot of bad press or negative commentary on hate sites can engender significant volatility in share price, damage stake-holders' confidence, and all that makes the business revenues melt away. Many competitors are also known to aid and abet hate sites so that they are able to smudge contrary views against themselves or their products in the process."

While hate sites pose obvious problems for a company, they can also provide opportunities. Many companies monitor their hate sites because they provide valuable feedback about their existing products and services that they may not find elsewhere or without commissioning expensive customer-satisfaction surveys.



Anti-corporate sites on rise: Study - The Globe and Mail

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