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1. Evil. 2. ??? 3. PROFIT
November 27, 2010 8:57 PM   Subscribe

“The customer is always right — not here, you understand? I hate that phrase — the customer is always right. Why is the merchant always wrong? Can the customer ever be wrong? Is that not possible?” Gaming Google's PageRank algorithm, one online glasses merchant's prime directive seems to be Don't Be Evil.
posted by ocherdraco (112 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Still not a good post, and it's still not about Google.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:00 PM on November 27, 2010


Beat me to it. I bet this guy ends ip going to jail now. It's a shame it takes a new York times feature to do it.
posted by empath at 9:00 PM on November 27, 2010


Why is this not a good post? It's a great article.
posted by empath at 9:01 PM on November 27, 2010 [23 favorites]


stoneweaver: "Still not a good post, and it's still not about Google"

It's about gaming Google's page ranking algorithm.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:02 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not usually into Internet JUSTICE, but this might be a good time pull out the 4chan signal
posted by GilloD at 9:09 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the yellow pages in the telephone books, at least the way it used to be, you'd have a whole bunch of places like "A. Aaron's Tire Repair" and "AAA Taxi Service" and such.

Of course, some people would call them up to get their tire repaired, or to get a ride to the airport or whatever. They were first in the list, after all. Of course, when A. Aaron didn't fix your tires right, we didn't go around blaming whoever printed up the phone books. See, the phone book people just put them in the order that their names fell in the alphabet.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:10 PM on November 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


a good time pull out the 4chan signal

/b/ is not your personal army.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:11 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


this might be a good time pull out the 4chan signal


NSAID's Axiom: There is never a good time time to pull out the 4chan signal.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:11 PM on November 27, 2010 [19 favorites]


What a horrible person.

a good time pull out the 4chan signal

Serious question: Do you ever read 4chan?
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:13 PM on November 27, 2010


I just saw this and was wondering if it would show up here.

I'm quite surprised that the police have to 'build a case' about anything - from the article, it sounds like he made pretty explicit threats in email form.

I have to wonder if this character is not involved in something more shady and that's the case they're building.
posted by device55 at 9:14 PM on November 27, 2010


Wow. Just wow.

How has this guy not been shut down?
posted by SisterHavana at 9:19 PM on November 27, 2010


The fact that so many corporations, companies, agencies and officials were only interested in resolving the case once it became evident a reporter was looking into them is disheartening.
posted by JHarris at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2010 [40 favorites]


The victim should have been able to get a restraining order against the guy pretty easily. Had I been in her position, I would have been very tempted to head over there with a baseball bat or something. After all, if he's just across the bridge from her, then she's just across the bridge from him.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


a good time pull out the 4chan signal

Do you know what the 4chan signal looks like? I would never willingly light that thing. The neighbors would not be amused by it.
posted by JHarris at 9:23 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Had I been in her position, I would have been very tempted to head over there with a baseball bat or something. After all, if he's just across the bridge from her, then she's just across the bridge from him.

This is not what one does if one wants to remain in a civil society.
posted by JHarris at 9:24 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Threeway Handshake:

Except in the case of the phone book, order is determined by an innocuous property of the alphabet, and not by the notoriety of the establishment. Allowing such negative attention to affect the pagerank of commercial websites is a huge flaw in the system.
posted by yifes at 9:27 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Except in the case of the phone book, order is determined by an innocuous property of the alphabet, and not by the notoriety of the establishment.

Exactly, as somebody else said:
It's about gaming Google's page ranking algorithm.

Naming your company "AAA Taxi Service" is gaming the telephone book. There's a new thing to game now, which is Google results. You just do it differently.

Why would you assume the first company in the Yellow Pages is the best? Why would you assume the first result in Google would actually be the best to buy from?

Google ranks the most relevant site for your search, not "the best store to buy something from." Are they supposed to do that? How would they know?

For fun, I just typed in "murderer" in Google. Apart from giving me the definition, the first hit is about Bart Simpson. I wouldn't hire out a cartoon for a hit job, and I actually wouldn't assume Bart has actually killed anybody, but I'm sure that's the site that has the most links to it.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:34 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Except in the case of the phone book, order is determined by an innocuous property of the alphabet, and not by the notoriety of the establishment. Allowing such negative attention to affect the pagerank of commercial websites is a huge flaw in the system.

I'd bet a donut that Google has done R&D on adding some kind of 'positivity index' to their search results. I imagine that it could lead to some weird problems though.

Let's say a small business has a bad manager who earns a reputation for being a jerk to his customers. This ends up all over the Yelps and whatnot, and now Google jerk-ranks the small business into 23rd page search-results-oblivion.

The small business then fires the manager, and reforms their policies. Customers are happy.

The internet doesn't forget all of those old bad reviews...will the small business be forever jerk-ranked? Or does google have to live update their jerk rankings?

I think its a more complicated that it seems on the surface.

The page rank gaming is only a small part of this story though, this guy is an abusive and possibly dangerous individual and thus far has gamed not only google, but credit card companies, ebay, and perhaps law enforcement
posted by device55 at 9:35 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Although it’s noon, he rubs his head as if he’s just woken up."

The NYT hates night owls. :(
posted by mullacc at 9:37 PM on November 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


Let's say a small business has a bad manager who earns a reputation for being a jerk to his customers. This ends up all over the Yelps and whatnot, and now Google jerk-ranks the small business into 23rd page search-results-oblivion.

Yes, and then as a competing business owner, I'll go on Yelp and write 500 bad reviews to further push him down. This already happens, and is exactly why Google (or anybody else running a search engine) can't know what is best or not about the product somebody is selling.

The page rank gaming is only a small part of this story though

But it took over the writeup and the title of this post, and the other one that was deleted earlier.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:42 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's an interesting article but it's rather light on providing evidence for the core assertion that negative online reviews are good for business. All they have is some uncorroborated comments from a guy who frankly sounds unhinged, and even his claims, if true, aren't very compelling evidence that the reason he does okay in Google results is the complaints. (The article also doesn't mention that Google autosuggests "scam" after you type decormyeyes into the search box, don't they get any credit for that?) I tried the Google search described in the article ("Christian Audigier" + glasses) and I do not get the same results described--Borker says "I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.” but his site is the fifth result and the designer's is the second; the Christian Audigier site also has a higher pagerank. Did the results change overnight, or the reporter not actually bother to glance at the screen to corroborate the claim, or was Borker getting search results based on an algorithm that was adaptive to his browsing habits, which I think Google does sometimes, that would put his site higher because it knows that he visits that site a lot?
posted by phoenixy at 9:43 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I'm looking at an online retailer I've never bought from before I Google "<companyname/> scam", which usually works to uncover at least some kinds of crappy evilness, and appears to work with this company's name. This isn't a problem with Google, it's a problem with people not trying to check out those they're doing business with.

I mean, come on, we're on the internet here, there's no excuse to not build up an entire dossier on a person or company before you start broadcasting credit card numbers.
posted by XMLicious at 9:45 PM on November 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


psychopathologooglical
posted by Auden at 9:48 PM on November 27, 2010


This isn't a problem with Google, it's a problem with people not trying to check out those they're doing business with.

Complicating factors to verification include the scope of Internet business (national to global) and the ease of businesses and individuals to change their name before conducting business transactions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:57 PM on November 27, 2010


searching for "vitaly borker" brings up a buttload of Really Bad Press from all over the place. Just amazing.
posted by boo_radley at 9:58 PM on November 27, 2010


I love this guy. He's like a living DON'T FEED THE TROLL sign.
posted by nasreddin at 10:00 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


But it took over the writeup and the title of this post, and the other one that was deleted earlier.

The article focuses quite a bit on this topic as well, even going so far as to ask some google rep about it (I'm not sure what they expect google to say here. "Yep. lot's of creeps try to game our search algorithm. Sometimes it works, but not for very long").

I suspect that the google angle is just a way to create interest in the piece. If the NYT were a tabloid rag the headline might read "Russian Mafia Uses Google for Shakedowns!!!"

The part where the article mentions a room full of returns, each representing a 'battle', was interesting to me. It implies (to me) that the whole "any publicity is good publicity, so I just crank up the negativity" story is just a way to excuse antisocial behavior.
posted by device55 at 10:05 PM on November 27, 2010


This is a good post. I liked the article.
posted by killdevil at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2010


So there's this business near my house, which offers (essentially) an indoor play park for kids. It's amazingly clean, really well put-together, the people are fantastic, and kids have tons, absolutely TONS of fun there. Mine certainly do. And, a full day's pass is under $10, which ('round where I live) is crazy-cheap.

This business doesn't advertise. Not at all. They've been around for less than a year, and they decided to skip the web sites and the newspaper and all that, and just offer their business through word-of-mouth via the families that stumble across them (of course, initially seeding it through friends and family.)

The result? They're not packed full all the time, but they're making a solid profit, and are very happy with the cash flow. It makes me happy to know there's at least one alternative method of getting your business to succeed -- the good, old-fashioned kind, involving a great product at a fair price -- that can still work in this connected age.
posted by davejay at 10:19 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


Russian guy living large in Sheepshead Bay by selling knock-off glasses for several years without being sued out of existence and puts on his best Joe Pesci impersonation in dealing with problem customers?

If this guy's not connected, I'll eat my hat.
posted by dr_dank at 10:22 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Buying designer stuff online without checking out the seller is stupid. Threatening your customers with sexual violence,etc even more idiotic. You bring this kind of stupidity together and you have a future violent crime. This is the kind of shit where some hothead with a gun gets involved.

I suppose that the prosecutor wants to try to bring a bigger case here than assault. Probably some kind of big fraud case that would let them put the guy away for a while. In a clogged court system who wants to deal with it until it's going to really stop the guy.
posted by humanfont at 10:23 PM on November 27, 2010


yifes: “Allowing such negative attention to affect the pagerank of commercial websites is a huge flaw in the system.”

Ah. So what you want is a search engine with a robust and standardized ratings system which carefully filters out negatively-rated businesses and pushes postively-rated businesses to the top.

What you're asking for is Yelp. And that? That is evil.

There are significant problems with making Google more like Yelp. Most of all, there's the problem that if you base things on negative and positive feedback you aren't actually searching the internet rationally any more. Seriously, the problem with thought processes like these is that they assume that the internet is for business. That's not all it's for. This is a tiny problem, and it's not a problem I care much about. It's certainly not a problem I want Google to fuck up their algorithms for.

Meanwhile those of us who are are careful will continue to pay attention to the places we buy from online, watching out for that kind of thing. Seriously, you can get ripped off anywhere -- you can buy counterfeit jewelry, you can buy fake designer jeans, you can buy used cars that fall apart. Yes, some of these things are illegal, but still – "buyer beware" is better than fucking up the internet just because of some angry consumers who didn't pay attention to who they were buying from.
posted by koeselitz at 10:25 PM on November 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


It's about gaming Google's page ranking algorithm.

Interestingly, it really isn't. Gaming, as I would understand it, and as generations of SEOs would have it, involves doing things to mislead Google about the popularity of your site or its relevance in searches. Here, the disgruntled customers are doing all that on their own -- with savvy, informed prodding.

I do not get the same results described--Borker says "I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.” but his site is the fifth result and the designer's is the second

From your description, I believe we are getting the same Google result. The second result -- christianaudigiereyewear.com -- is actually a third party vendor, Revolution Eyewear (contact e-mail on AOL!). The official site, christianaudigier.com, is the sixth result. So the NYT claim looks true.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on November 27, 2010


Decormyeyes seem to have their own (recently created) facebook page. One of the comments mentions a sister company named EyewearUs. From some of the reviews at complaintsboard.com, they too have been involved in racial and sexual harassment of their dissatisfied customers.
posted by Ahab at 10:32 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here, the disgruntled customers are doing all that on their own -- with savvy, informed prodding.

The prodding is how Borker is gaming Google to get results; he says as much himself, encouraging (poor) reviews.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:37 PM on November 27, 2010


I mean, it sounds to me like Google is working perfectly here. If this dude's web site is mentioned more than the original designer's, so be it. I want that result at the top. That makes sense.

Seriously, this is rational. People want Google to tell them what site to buy eyeglasses from? No. It shouldn't do that at all. And it doesn't pretend to, thankfully.
posted by koeselitz at 10:40 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


The difference between gaming a phonebook and gaming Google is transparency. Phonebook ranking is obvious, though there is probably some increased business for companies on the top of the first page of listings vs somewhere on the fifth page. But to many people, SEO is a foriegn concept, and Google knows things. After all, why else would they have that "feeling lucky" button? (Yes, luck doesn't seem like a good way to choose a store, but how many people check the second page of results, let alone the second Google result?)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:42 PM on November 27, 2010


The irony is that, although I'm sure their intentions are pure, both the NYT article and this post here are likely sending this guy higher up on the page ranks.
posted by redsnare at 10:43 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


From your description, I believe we are getting the same Google result. The second result -- christianaudigiereyewear.com -- is actually a third party vendor, Revolution Eyewear (contact e-mail on AOL!). The official site, christianaudigier.com, is the sixth result. So the NYT claim looks true.

Well, depends on how you interpret it--you're right that Christian Audigier's official site is lower down, but from the marketing copy on the site it seems like Revolution actually did design the glasses on Audigier's behalf and sells them under his brand name. But you're certainly right and I was wrong about the claim regarding the Google results being plausible.
posted by phoenixy at 10:44 PM on November 27, 2010


'Gaming Google's PageRank algorithm, one online glasses merchant's prime directive {insert here} to be Don't [/] Be Evil'.
posted by clavdivs at 10:46 PM on November 27, 2010


Complicating factors to verification include the scope of Internet business (national to global) and the ease of businesses and individuals to change their name before conducting business transactions.

Well, sure, but those businesses and individuals would then lose their search engine ranking. The central premise of this article is that this guy is able to benefit from links to his site from negative sources, which requires him to continue doing business under the same names.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:46 PM on November 27, 2010


Obviously, what needs to be done is that the name , vitaly borker, needs to be linked closely to DecorMyEyes.com in as many posts as possible on the net.

Problem (somewhat) solved.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:47 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


This whole situation should be an embarassment for the Attorney General's office. No wonder they didn't want to talk to the press about the case, they should be ashamed that they've failed to lock him up for this long when he's such a obvious and aggressive fraud.
posted by mullingitover at 10:57 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


"A few hours later, Mr. Russo sent details of what appeared to be a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn. It included a hearing date and time, the address of the court, a docket number and a demand for $1,500, which, the e-mail said, “includes my legal fees.”

Ms. Rodriguez did not respond. A few hours later, Mr. Russo raised the stakes sharply by sending another e-mail, this one with a photograph of the front of the apartment building where she and her fiancé lived.

Then her cellphone started ringing. And ringing..."

Holy CRAP.
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:08 PM on November 27, 2010


koeselitz:
Seriously, the problem with thought processes like these is that they assume that the internet is for business. That's not all it's for. This is a tiny problem, and it's not a problem I care much about.

Business is an increasingly important part of the internet, and saying you don't care for it, therefore it is not important is quite arrogant.

This article clearly shows that the way google's algorithm ranks pages is not rational for certain scenarios, just like applying feedback based filtering of search results is not rational for traditional internet searches.
posted by yifes at 11:13 PM on November 27, 2010


The problem here isn't Google. The problem is that the police and prosecutors are turning a blind eye to widescale fraud, harassment and assault (and that Citibank apparently has no real account security).
posted by dirigibleman at 11:43 PM on November 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm glad this thread was revived.

This guy is not gaming google. He's following the old dictum that any publicity is good publicity. Given his online reputation I'm suprised that he has any customers at all but if we believe him then being an asshole pays off for him. He doesn't have any inventory costs. Let's say that 90% of his orders go through without any problems. He gets his profit and the possibility of some repeat business on the orders from the 90%.The question is how does he deal with the 10% of orders that go wrong. It's costly to resolve customer problems and even if you do it right you've already got a black mark against you in the customer's mind. So he just writes off that 10% and then he uses them to drive new business to his site. It's an interesting and surprising strategy. If this actually works, then I think it won't be too long before we see other businesses incorporating parts of his thinking into their operations. I think that his attittude towards customers is the moral equivalent of spam but like spam if it works, then soon there'll a crap flood of it on the internet.

And... He's crazy and his behavior is going to get him busted once he catches the attention fo the media and the authorites but that doesn't change the fact that he stumbled onto something interesting.
posted by rdr at 11:47 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


How does he find time to hassle each of his customers with the personal attention outlined in the article?
posted by maxwelton at 11:49 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


How often does the NYT create comic-book summaries of their stories for people like me who are too lazy to read the article? This is the first I've seen it, but I approve.
posted by straight at 12:40 AM on November 28, 2010


How does he find time to hassle each of his customers with the personal attention outlined in the article?

By staying awake from 10am to 5am.
posted by tracicle at 12:41 AM on November 28, 2010


By staying awake from 10am to 5am.

But that's essentially what I do (no kidding) and I barely have time to leave a few jokey comments here and play some solitaire.
posted by maxwelton at 2:33 AM on November 28, 2010


So why aren't these consumer complaint sites using nofollow? Wouldn't that solve the problem of boosting this guy's PageRank?
posted by problemspace at 2:34 AM on November 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'm really interested in looking at that "old dictum" (or pernicious cliché) that rdr mentioned. The entire NYT piece is dedicated to a personal profile of somebody who actually believes that there is no such thing as bad publicity (viz Borker's last tweet, "Have a look at this publicity stunt! WOW we are famous") but is this the case? I was recently in a heated discussion IRL about copyright law, and I mentioned the Lily Allen editorial fiasco that resulted in her shutting down her blog (I may have been a bit hyperbolic when I described the internet outcry as "destroying her", but still.)

The response to my comment was the cliché, as if publicists don't exist to manage their client's reputations. Some pointed to Michael Vick's comeback, but that has more to do with measurable performance than "dogfighting made him popular." No, dogfighting made him known to people who don't follow the NFL. Lily Allen might have lost herself a few fans from the MySpace days, but her career hasn't been hurt in the long term, whether she continues making music or not.

So when is bad publicity good publicity, and when is it simply bad? Is there some tipping point? I think it must have something to do with the previously-established fame of the recipient: Russell Crowe can do crazy things and it's "bad publicity = good" because it's part of his persona or something, whereas getting mad at stupid kids and being caught on tape doing it is "bad publicity = bad"... unless more people are buying shoes from this guy? Perhaps it's a false comparison between celebrities and civilians, but regardless, the internet has changed the way we look at reputation and Google has an awful lot to do with that.

In this particular case I think that, contrary to Borker's belief, bad publicity = bad publicity, but somehow I doubt this guy will change his ways until Google finds a sensible way to close this loophole. Or internet shoppers get smarter. Both unlikely outcomes.
posted by Chichibio at 2:43 AM on November 28, 2010


“Look,” he says, grabbing an iPad off a small table. He types “Christian Audigier,” the name of a French designer, and “glasses” into Google. DecorMyEyes pops up high on the first page.

“Why am I there?” he asks, sounding both peeved and amazed. “I don’t belong there. I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.”


When I ran that search he was bottom of page two. His site's probably showing up high on his own machine because Google custom search remembers that he's visited that site many times before.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:16 AM on November 28, 2010


I love how the writer acknowledges that "[a] crucial factor in Google search results ... is the number of links from respected and substantial Web sites" and links to the site anyway.

Yes, of course, in the interest of journalism and so forth. But wouldn't non-linked text suffice? A link from the Times must carry some serious weight.
posted by rudzki at 3:55 AM on November 28, 2010


To summarize the arguments of everyone who doesn't see Google's algorithm as being broken: It isn't that DecorMyEyes isn't a notable site. It's that users are not apprehending the reason for its notability.
posted by JHarris at 4:09 AM on November 28, 2010


When I ran that search he was bottom of page two.

Same here, but isn't that location-based? I'm sure people from New York won't get Specsavers results either.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:14 AM on November 28, 2010


Do you know what the 4chan signal looks like? I would never willingly light that thing. The neighbors would not be amused by it.

It's just the bat signal rotated 90 degrees, and stretched a little.
posted by condour75 at 4:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


When I'm looking at an online retailer I've never bought from before I Google " scam", which usually works to uncover at least some kinds of crappy evilness, and appears to work with this company's name. This isn't a problem with Google, it's a problem with people not trying to check out those they're doing business with.

Agreed. This is exactly like the NY Camera stores that pop up and disappear. Take a second to research from whom you're buying something -- don't just use an online store because it's cheap.
posted by inigo2 at 4:54 AM on November 28, 2010


Was the previous post deletd?
posted by fixedgear at 4:58 AM on November 28, 2010


I've bought a buttload of expensive crap on the internets and I have never once been scammed. I have never even had an unpleasant experience. Due diligence is all it takes, and I don't even do much of that. People (and websites) always tell you who they are in one way or another.

Huge red flags: spelling mistakes, no contact phone number, no clarity about physical location, 'about us' is vague boilerplate, lots of paranoid stuff about how they get scammed all the time.

The biggest single thing you can do to protect yourself is shoot them an email with a question about the product, or shipping, or *anything*. The tone of the response, and the modality and speed with which it is delivered, will tell you almost everything you need to know.

Essentially: if you have even a whiff of discomfort, take your custom elsewhere.

Also, baseline assumption: anywhere selling identical products at vastly lower prices than other internet retailers is a scam until proven otherwise. This plus any of the red flags above = run for the hills.
posted by unSane at 5:02 AM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


(Also, most of the time eBay is a good bet. At least a thousand transactions, at least 98% feedback.)
posted by unSane at 5:03 AM on November 28, 2010


I think part of the problem is that, with the ability to do price comparison shopping on the internet, some buyers shop only on the basis of price. This really isn't logical for all purchases. For example, there are a number of camera stores, often based in warehouses in Brooklyn, which use similar tactics (bait and switch, overcharging, etc.). If you're buying camera gear, you should understand that they are commodity items and you're not going to get a much better price than what you would get from a high-volume, low-margin retailer like B&H will have.

If you're buying online or offline, a deal that's too good to be true probably has something wrong with it. It seems interesting to me that only 10 years ago many people were very afraid of making purchases on the internet. Now, there is a growing population that sees supercheapodesignereyewearz4U.com and assumes that they must be legit.

Also, the price pressure from businesses that are either unethical or simply cost-cutting to the point of incompetence (not every business on the web can actually put the correct item in the box and ship it) makes it much tougher for businesses that, either online or offline, are selling the same products, but offering some level of service or expertise.
posted by snofoam at 5:09 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's maybe worth putting a verbal password on your credit card if the companies are just going to accept fraudulent calls withdrawing disputed.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:22 AM on November 28, 2010


There's a whole lot about Google that, as time goes by, reveals itself as broken, beginning with Google's complete opaqueness and inability/unwillingness to correct problems.

Currently, I have a client who discovered several weeks ago that someone had created a Google Places/Maps entry for my client. Except, the phone numbers were incorrect. The phone numbers went through some odd re-routing that eventually ended-up back at my client. It's being investigated, but the fear is that either customer phone numbers are being collected through the re-route, or the calls themselves are being recorded. It's pretty creepy. The bogus entry come up second in a Google search for the client's name. But, thanks to it being a Google Places/Maps entry, your eyes go straight to the bogus entry (and the re-route number) and not my client's normal Google entry just above.

My client has tried to contact Google through the feeble reporting system they have in place, but the only response they get is that the bogus entry is "owner verified"...as if that bestows the crown of authenticity to everything. It suddenly became startlingly clear just how easy it would be to create fake Google Places/Maps entries for any number of businesses and they would simply be left to stand, no matter how bad they were.

It's kind of hard to believe that the braniacs at Google couldn't see how this system could be gamed for evil. But the utter lack of any means of correcting such problems is a bigger problem.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:23 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's a whole lot about Google that, as time goes by, reveals itself as broken

This seems like an odd way to think about Google. It only became popular because it was more useful (i.e., less broken) than the competition at the time. It only remains popular as long as it remains that way. Sometimes Google can deliver surprisingly good results, but for me this doesn't happen often enough for me to have thought that they "solved" search.
posted by snofoam at 5:34 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd bet a donut that Google has done R&D on adding some kind of 'positivity index' to their search results. I imagine that it could lead to some weird problems though.

I'd bet a box of croissants that you didn't read the article. You could start reading it at “sentiment analysis,” if you only wanted to know what it said about your idea.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:46 AM on November 28, 2010


> When I ran that search he was bottom of page two.

Same here, but isn't that location-based? I'm sure people from New York won't get Specsavers results either.


I'm in Florida, and a search for christian audigier glasses puts him at number five, with christianaudigier.com just below him.

But yeah, he's not really gaming Google, at least not in ways that Google themselves are likely to penalize him for (at least, according to the info in this article). That is, he's not using webspammy tactics to artificially boost his search rankings, like false keywords and buying backlinks -- as others have said, the customers are doing all the work for him.

So why aren't these consumer complaint sites using nofollow? Wouldn't that solve the problem of boosting this guy's PageRank?

A bunch of them do, it looks like, but when you take into account messageboards and blog posts and so forth, it doesn't put much of a dent in things.

And, predictably, the business operates under several different names.
posted by Gator at 5:52 AM on November 28, 2010


This article is too good to be true. Searching for "Lafont" or "Ciba Vision" does not yield DecorMyEyes near the top results. Searching for "Tony Russo" yields nothing connecting to this story. I am highly skeptical whether the conversation that allegedly took place between the reporter and Vitaly Borker (an accent that carries "the faintest trace of Russia"??) went down as described in this article, if it occurred at all. A Google contact who remains unidentified and did not follow up? Whatever.

This was put out there with the holiday season approaching to fuel some internet scare stories around the dinner table.

With regards to the morsels of truth that underlie this dumb article: if you buy expensive stuff over the internet without doing any research on the seller, then it is you who is broken, not Google.
posted by eeeeeez at 5:59 AM on November 28, 2010


This is exactly like the NY Camera stores that pop up and disappear.

... For example, there are a number of camera stores, often based in warehouses in Brooklyn.


Previous FPP: 'Brooklyn thrives on ripping off unaware camera buyers. Here's where these guys operate from...'
posted by ericb at 6:03 AM on November 28, 2010


So why aren't these consumer complaint sites using nofollow? Wouldn't that solve the problem of boosting this guy's PageRank?

Would that hinder the Pagerank of the consumer complaint sites?
posted by almostmanda at 6:28 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The weird thing is that the same people who buy from these websites without doing any due diligence are the same people who were horrified when I was dating guys I met online.
posted by desjardins at 6:43 AM on November 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don’t belong there. I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.

Says the man confidently about the contents of the sealed black box.

You don't know anything of the sort. You outranked them one day, for reasons that you think you know, but in reality have absolutely no explanation for.

Additionally, people need to stop complaining about the internet not holding their fucking hand for them. You lot are the reason we have speed limits on highways.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:57 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad, you can't change a phone number on a Google Local account without a PIN code physically sent on a postcard to the businesses address, which is probably what they mean when they say "Owner Verified". If nothing else just go in to Google Local, request another postcard and reclaim the account.

Sounds like somebody at that business may have had someone optimize their Google local account and may not understand what they signed up for or somebody signed up and didn't let the owner know.

The different phone number is most likely to track the campaign.
posted by jcking77 at 6:58 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


In this particular case I think that, contrary to Borker's belief, bad publicity = bad publicity, but somehow I doubt this guy will change his ways until Google finds a sensible way to close this loophole. Or internet shoppers get smarter. Both unlikely outcomes.

Or until he goes to prison, which is not so unlikely now.
posted by mreleganza at 7:00 AM on November 28, 2010


So this is the first time in a long time I've read such a lengthy article to the end. I'm a tl;dr kind of person, but damn this was a good piece.
posted by Taft at 7:15 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or until he goes to prison, which is not so unlikely now.

Haaaaaaahahaha.

More likely is that he will not-ironically win the "Most reputable business in Sheepshead Bay" award this year.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


In this particular case I think that, contrary to Borker's belief, bad publicity = bad publicity, but somehow I doubt this guy will change his ways until Google finds a sensible way to close this loophole. Or internet shoppers get smarter. Both unlikely outcomes.

Or until he goes to prison, which is not so unlikely now.

It would be great to believe that assholes like this will go to prison, but I don't really expect him to. Fly-by-night scumminess has been around for a long time, and coupled with the anonymity of the internet it sounds pretty easy to get away with, if you're willing to put in the long hours.

As for my comment about the Google "loophole", well, I'll retract that. As Gator points out,

...he's not using webspammy tactics to artificially boost his search rankings, like false keywords and buying backlinks -- as others have said, the customers are doing all the work for him.

So he's exploiting Google in an unethical manner, not gaming them, which means that there is no loophole to close. What is a sucker to do?
posted by Chichibio at 7:37 AM on November 28, 2010


The interesting part to me is the computer school that helped fake resumes.
I've often gotten a half dozen 10 page resumes, all listing the same projects at the same companies. When I ask about the projects I always get the same 10000 foot overview.these applicants also do very poorly on technical questions, but pretty well on process questions. I knew recruiters coached applicants but this adds a new wrinkle.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:40 AM on November 28, 2010


I find it ironic that a post about an asshole has so much threadshitting in it. It's almost like people are testing the article's theories on metafilter.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2010


So he's exploiting Google in an unethical manner, not gaming them, which means that there is no loophole to close. What is a sucker to do?

Google could monitor complaint boards and remove links for sites that get inordinate numbers of complaints. There's always the 'denial of service' issue.

Or google could setup a system for people to complain about domains. Presumably they know enough about individual users to tell if they are 'real' or posting tons of bullshit.
posted by delmoi at 8:16 AM on November 28, 2010


I'm puzzled how this guy gets to keep processing credit and gaming the banks on pulling back chargebacks. A 1% chargeback rates get you cancelled and credit card processors share information about scammers. Yet this crook has been consistently able to rip off purchasers and get away with it. The article says that MasterCard is finally getting around to dropping him, but Visa does the vast majority of credit business.

In my experience, the credit card security people are more concerned about bad purchasers than bad sellers, though security holds on out-of-area purchases over $2k are very common. Seems like there's lots of room at the low end for the rats and mice to play.

On the other hand, googling DecorMyEyes shows the resellerratings.com listing for them as the fourth link and the NYT article as the third. The NYT link is new, but resellerratings has been around for a long time. But many comments upthread have noted this isn't Google's problem, nor should it be.

I work in retail and we get a lot of traffic via the web. Many callers don't seem to know who they are calling and we frequently get callers who think they are talking to the manufacturer of the product they are interested in and not one of hundreds of retailers of that manufacturer.

It shouldn't be surprising that many people are as careless about who they buy from as who they vote for. The fact that there are some trashy types in e-commerce says more about the size of the long tail than it does about the structure of e-commerce. Think of this guy as the Ron Paul of e-commerce.
posted by warbaby at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2010


A few people have been trying to talk to Matt Cutts about this on Twitter, but he was on a plane yesterday while trying to look into it. I thought he seemed just tad bit defensive. "you saw that the exact phrase "discount lafont glasses" only occurs on about ~15 distinct pages on whole web?" And, "but Christian Audigier pages use "sunglasses" instead. [Christian Audigier sunglasses] returns offic. site in top 3 out of 4"

Yeah, but the average schmoe doesn't seem savvy enough to use quotation marks and other tools to narrow their searches for the best results, or to know whether to use "glasses" or "sunglasses" for more precise results necessarily, or to interpret search results in any way, really. Without the quotes, discount lafont glasses returns about 178,000 results, with our Borker guy landing at #2.

Not that any of this is really Google's fault or problem. It's not like they can manually go through the search results and separate the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, like, "Okay, your site is technically relevant by ordinary search algorithm parameters, you're not using fake keywords or paid links, BUT! You, personally, are a scuzzball so we're going to de-list you for that."

On preview, delmoi, even if they had the ability to do that sort of thing (reading complaint boards and punishing sites for being Bad Guys even though they're not breaking Google's rules), that in itself could conceivably be gamed. Businesses looking to ding their competitors could start negative messageboard campaigns in the hopes of Google seeing those complaints and taking down the competition.
posted by Gator at 8:22 AM on November 28, 2010


Hey everybody, the New York Times is finally publishing the actual website addresses they talk about now! With the clicking!
posted by user92371 at 8:34 AM on November 28, 2010


From the article: In moments, she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results.

Does Decormyeyes.com really look snazzy to people? At least in my browser, it looked like a mismash of fonts and far too much GIF dithering. Even if I gave decided to browse, the experience is sketchy throughout. From the "Testimonials" and the various "we're not crooks" links, to the lack of an "Add to basket" option and instead an array of different payment systems...

How crappy does a website have to look be before average Joe users decide not to buy? I guess Craigslist.org is the extreme example...
posted by rh at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2010


Buying designer stuff online without checking out the seller is stupid.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:03 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I follow a rule of web shopping that seems to eliminate many scam sites pretty quickly: never shop from a supposedly American store with a name like DecorMyEyes which doesn't sound anything like English or even as though any thought had been put into choosing it. It actually sounds disgusting. It sounds like what it is: a name that can easily be replaced when the scam that it is is revealed.

This was a great article and I'm actually shocked by the fact that he wasn't arrested for the very clear, very illegal threats he made.
posted by Maias at 9:15 AM on November 28, 2010


How crappy does a website have to look be before average Joe users decide not to buy? I guess Craigslist.org is the extreme example...

Craigslist has an appropriate look – it makes every post look like something on the cork board in your local library. It sets up expectations properly, that Craigslist is not endorsing the vendor nor guaranteeing the sale in any way. Buyer beware.

Does redacted.com really look snazzy to people?

To some people it's a big clean grid of pretty products and that’s all they need for it to be snazzy. I certainly agree the experience seems sketchy and spammy, preying on the naive. I’ve spent money at web sites that look worse, though. The signs we look for are more complicated than just the level of design sophistication or money spent on the web site.

But really, someone should be shutting down shady operators like this and the web site and google ranking should be irrelevant.
posted by KS at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2010


This is a great enterprise story, though to be honest I'm kind of surprised to see it in the Times. I think maybe the "scary internet guy" angle might have tipped it into the "publish" category.

One of the papers I worked at had a general policy against this sort of story. We'd get calls sometimes into the city desk where people were complaining about local businesses. And we'd follow up, but there was too high a potential for libel in most cases, because business owners would never consent to be interviewed about bad practices, and you can't publish a story based on one person's unverified complaint. The fact that Visaly Borker -- and really, could the guy have a better last name? Borker -- did consent to be interviewed is kind of astonishing in itself.

When I started to read the story, I was thinking, "This is an easy day's work: a 10-phone-call sort of story. One call from the crazy lady with her consumer complaint, a few calls to the Better Business Bureau, the consumer department at some credit card companies and banks, and a short chat with someone from the AG's office." But then when I saw the reporter had actually gotten the business owner to talk, and had really done a fantastic job of both research and writing, it made me want to heart-hug him, because we don't have enough people doing interesting journalism these days.
posted by brina at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wow, that dude has got some serious socipathic shit going on.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:39 AM on November 28, 2010


I read that article earlier today and couldn't stop thinking about all the camera scam places in NYC. type in whatever camera you like into a comparison site like Yahoo! Shopping and you'll find them. the digital picture has a pretty good writeup of the scams:

If you ever opened a photography magazine up to the full-page ads in the back, you have undoubtedly seen some eye-opening deals from some certain retailers. Well, they are likely not as they appear.

The unscrupulous retailers play a large number of games to hook you - and the first game is a very low advertised price. It creates a desire and excitement that some people can't control. And you will not end up with the Canon lens you want for the advertised price.

The games played varies, but a common one is that you get a phone call after you place your order. They will likely try to sell you some overpriced accessories such as filter kits. Or they may inform you that the advertised lens was an imported version and that they are out of stock - BUT they just happen to have the USA version in stock - for more money of course. The may tell you that the imported lens is plastic but the USA version is metal (Canon does not make two versions of the same lens). A similar scam refers to the lens mount being plastic on a lens that Canon manufactures with a metal mount (most of them).

If they do sell you the lens, it will likely be missing something that is normally included with that model. This includes lens hoods, pouches, cases ... and likely the warranty. Many of these low-ball retailers sell non-warranted lenses.

Another game played is that the item simply never shows up - but your credit card gets charged. You can spend a huge amount of time getting the situation and your account settled.

Oh - and be sure to find out what they are charging for shipping. It is often more eye-opening than their low-ball prices.

I was going to list some of the worst offenders, but they are continually opening new online and mail order storefronts under new names. I can't keep track of them and don't want to give you a false sense of security. So be alert and be aware.

When making a purchase, always use a credit card and don't be afraid to dispute a fraudulent charge - even after the bill is paid. The credit card often has additional benefits such as warranty extensions and some limited-time insurance against theft or breakage.

I generally source my Canon lenses from the retailers listed within the Canon Lens reviews. The retailers listed there have proved to be reliable. No retailer is perfect, but these are some of the best. I recommend that you use these retailers.


my hunch is there is a small group of individuals living in a rather confined area in brooklyn who all pull the same scam with online shoppers: eyewear, digital cameras, I am certain there are three or four more categories and these scammers number no more than fifty people running this industry.

their only hope is to fly below the radar. they noticed that people are too lazy to google them and that negative reviews therefore don't really make a dent in their mass-market business. the moment a hungry prosecutor takes them seriously is the moment they are done. unfortunately there have been more than a few articles written about camera scams and the prosecutions never went beyond individual businesses afaik.
posted by krautland at 1:00 PM on November 28, 2010


Haaaaaaahahaha.

More likely is that he will not-ironically win the "Most reputable business in Sheepshead Bay" award this year.


It would be great to believe that assholes like this will go to prison, but I don't really expect him to. Fly-by-night scumminess has been around for a long time, and coupled with the anonymity of the internet it sounds pretty easy to get away with, if you're willing to put in the long hours.

I think three things may make this exception to the rule:

1) He's not exactly keeping a lowe personal profile, which would be wise for scammers. Instead, he's bragging about his techniques, under his own name.

2) Related, this article is likely to stoke outrage that will put pressure on the AG's office to make an example out of him.

3) He's making violent threats against his customers. Also, if he were tried, and the prosecution were allowed to introduce testimony that Rodriguez' CC chargeback was mysteriously withdrawn, fuhgeddaboutit.
posted by mreleganza at 1:01 PM on November 28, 2010


> So why aren't these consumer complaint sites using nofollow? Wouldn't that solve the problem of boosting this guy's PageRank?

Would that hinder the Pagerank of the consumer complaint sites?

rel="nofollow" just indicates that the site doesn't "vouch for" the content of the target link. So sites using nofollow don't lose PageRank, they just prevent it from being stolen by tactics like this.

As Gator mentioned, the problem is that nofollow is not universal enough to be completely effective against this strategy.
posted by Le Ton beau at 5:53 PM on November 28, 2010


This article is great. Dude's a complete jerk, but a damned funny one (in the comedy = pain + distance sort of way ... but please keep him and his type far away from me!).

My favorite part came at the end where my agitating question (why the hell is he doing this interview?) was answered. I thought it must be vanity, but noooooo, not entirely ...

“What he needs is his company’s name visible for all the world to see — and all the search engines to crawl — in the online version of The New York Times. Along with some keywords, of course ...

"Just throw in ‘designer eyeglasses,’ ‘designer eyewear’ and a couple different brand names,” he says, “and I’m all set.”

This guy's the Tim O'Brien of evil online salesmen. What an breathtaking, yet awkward, way to end an online article.
posted by mapinduzi at 7:01 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Get Satisfaction responds.
posted by knave at 7:52 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Like any online community that cares to combat spammers, we code our user-submitted links so that Google ignores them for the purposes of calculating page rank (specifically, we attach “rel=nofollow” to anchor tags). Somebody trying to gin up their Page Rank by encouraging complaints on Get Satisfaction would be sorely disappointed." - from knave's link

I'm not sure if "nofollow" works, but at least they tried.
posted by mapinduzi at 10:03 PM on November 28, 2010


googling DecorMyEyes shows the resellerratings.com listing for them as the fourth link and the NYT article as the third

The NYT article is now behind a login wall, just in time for Monday-after-Thanksgiving online shopping. Good jorb, Times.
posted by ryanrs at 5:58 AM on November 29, 2010


This is completely unrelated to the story, but it's not really worth a FPP so I'm dumping it here.

Google Beat Box (click the 'listen' button)
posted by empath at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not a Google slappy, but I fail to see how any of this is Google's fault.

A couple of side points. "The customer is always right" does not give customers an unalienable right to abuse the vendor, but rather should be the guidepost for every customer service associate in dealing with customers. Make them feel that they are important and that they are being listened to. Of course, Vitaly borks that all up. He is akin to vermin.

"Caveat Emptor" should still guide everyone's purchases, especially on the Web. I say that as someone whose eyes were too big to notice all the warning flags when buying an iMac online--I would have been screwed completely, too, were it not for the good offices of (then) Providian. An appeal to PayPal initially got traction, but then a complete reversal of ground. Fortunately, I had the original email from PayPal saved. I imagine that CSA got terminated, unfortunately; she actually tried to help. Providian agreed that I never was shipped a computer and reversed the charge. The "merchant" had the balls to send an email offering to make good on the purchase by refunding the money--all I had to do was to send him my bank routing and account number!

People who see all the negative reviews and still purchase from this Borker have no one but themselves to blame. It is not Google's responsibility to save them from themselves. A top rank on Google is not a guarantee of goodness or suitability.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2010


One of the things that we know for certain is that some people prefer to justify their sociopathic behavior to themselves by wrapping themselves inside some legitimate undertaking.

For some people, it's business; for others, religion; for still others, it's family. There are other examples. What they have in common is that, behind the legitimate front that they use to justify their actions, their actions are wholly inappropriate and nearly impossible to defend without the legitimate front*.

What we have to be careful of, then, is blaming the front for the behavior of the individual hiding behind it. Yes, it is important to note that there is a novel new front available to us, one not in common use (or at least one we're not aware of.) Nevertheless, emphasizing the bad behavior of the individual is the important thing to do, and if this is discussed in terms of Google rather than the individual, the individual's actions are less likely to be remembered.

and sometimes even with; see priests and child molestation.
posted by davejay at 3:59 PM on November 29, 2010


Google responds
posted by Lanark at 1:06 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

(Emphasis mine)

I would be interested to know how Google forms that opinion. Good on them for reacting to this, but something about that makes me wary. Honestly I think that showing reviews alongside the site in question would be a better (or at least more transparent) solution. Caveat emptor and all that...
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:52 PM on December 1, 2010


NYT followup: Google alters search algorithm, Borker gets arrested, etc.
posted by warbaby at 6:24 AM on December 2, 2010


TwoWordReview: “Honestly I think that showing reviews alongside the site in question would be a better (or at least more transparent) solution. Caveat emptor and all that...”

That would be insane, and moreover completely and totally unworkable. Again, you're asking for the further Yelp-ification of the internet. That's a bad thing. Reviews are almost always wrong, and when they're given weight it's trivial for businesses to sabotage them. This would be a very, very bad idea. Transparent? Not at all. Not when 99% of the reviews on the internet are already complete nonsense.
posted by koeselitz at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2010


Discussed on This Week in Google.
posted by Gator at 8:07 AM on December 2, 2010


Borker's been arrested again, this time on Federal charges.

Federal agents found weapons and ammunition at Borker's home when they arrested him on Monday.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Especially during this holiday shopping season, today's arrest should send a message that we will protect online consumers and that victims of people like Borker are not alone."

It really says no such thing, unless you can get the attention of the New York Times.
posted by empath at 2:15 PM on December 6, 2010


And now he's got another link, this time from CNBC, and they didn't use nofollow.
posted by Gator at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2010


Now that he's down, NYT puts the boot to Borker:

For months, Ms. Rodriguez was unable to get much traction with any of the law enforcement entities she had called as she coped with Mr. Borker’s verbal and written attacks. Now, there seems to be a competition to punish him.
posted by warbaby at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2010


Mr. Borker apparently sent e-mail to the company where Victim 4 worked, stating that the customer sold drugs and was gay....He reportedly later called Victim 3 at all hours of the night, threatening sexual assault.

...When he was led away by court officers, he turned to look at his wife, who was sitting in the courtroom. He appeared grief stricken and on the verge of tears. 'Sorry,' he whispered to her, as he was escorted through a side door.


I was just wondering if this freak had any family. Oy. Hopefully there are no kids in the picture.
posted by Gator at 7:11 AM on December 7, 2010


He's got a two-year-old, according to the article.

It really says no such thing, unless you can get the attention of the New York Times.

Exactly. Bleh.
posted by rtha at 10:06 AM on December 7, 2010


Oops, I missed that.

I agree that it's very depressing that justice is often unattainable unless you (a) can afford a lawyer to aggressively sue the pants off the person who wronged you, or (b) manage to get yourself featured as a human-interest story in the media. "Justice is not free," indeed.
posted by Gator at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2010


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