Earlier this year, someone using a fake name, a fake employer and a fake job description filed a fraudulent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request with our parent company’s legal team.
Here’s what almost certainly happened: A reputation PR firm had a client who wanted a post written way back in 2010 to disappear from Google’s search results forever, so an employee of this firm copied and pasted our post into a fake news story, backdated it to make the claim more believable, then used a fictional but official-sounding identity to threaten our employer with unspecified legal action.
This attempt was temporarily effective in that we unpublished the story. That’s not something we’d normally do, but given that the post was 6 years old and we weren’t aware of the context, we figured it was appropriate. We recently put the post back up, because the takedown request was a big lie.
We don’t know exactly who did it. That said, when someone tries to get rid of posts headlined “Hot Ad (Wo)Man of the Day: Torrence Boone” and “Google Hires ‘Unemployable’ Torrence Boone,” it’s valid to suspect that the person behind the effort might be Torrence Boone … who is currently a vice president at Google working closely with that company’s ad agency partners.
Boone’s lawyers have repeatedly denied to AgencySpy that he was involved in the takedown requests or that he had any knowledge of the effort that appears to have been made on his behalf. They admit he has occasionally “hired digital marketing firms to manage his online profile” but claim that “they have not taken any action directed toward [your company] on behalf of Mr. Boone in March 2016, or at any other time.”
Tellingly, though, his lawyers spent most of our exchange last week arguing against the content of the “unemployable” post rather than discussing the request to take it down six years later: “In reply to your email to Mr. Boone, he disputes the defamatory blog post reportef [sp] by AdWeek in 2010 that he was ‘unemployable’. Mr. Boone stands by his service at Enfatico.”
That’s the short version of a very odd story. Here’s the long version.
Torrence Boone is currently VP of global agency sales and services at Google, which many rightly see as the single most powerful company in digital advertising. In other words, he is the man responsible for managing Google’s dealings with at least a few of its many agency partners. Way back in January 2010, our predecessor’s predecessor Matt Van Hoven aggregated AdAge’s report on Google’s decision to hire Boone following the collapse of a WPP unit called Enfatico, for which he had served as global CEO. The “unemployable” quote in the headline came from agency veteran and “AdScam” blogger George Parker, who posted on what he called the “sad, pathetic end of Enfatico” two days earlier.
For context, WPP launched Enfatico, which it called “the agency of the future,” to handle the Dell business in 2008. The client later broke up with WPP after the holding company folded what had been Enfatico into the Y&R organization, and Sir Martin Sorrell called it an experiment that “went wrong” in telling Forbes India that the project had failed because “the two prime movers behind it left Dell.”
We asked Parker about this story, and he wrote, “I have no personal history with Boone. I did talk to him a couple of times by phone after he attempted to do some damage repair on my widely read AdScam posts taking the piss out of the so called ‘Agency of the Future’ Enfatico.”
Three months after the hiring story ran, Van Hoven published the “Hot” post, which included an image of Boone “at Carnival 2009.”
Flash forward to March, 2016, when the legal team at Adweek’s parent company Mediabistro Holdings/Prometheus Global Media received a copyright infringement claim from someone calling him or herself “Jennifer Clandon, Sr. Journalist, Fox18 News.” This person used an email address with the URL Fox18News.com, linked to the Carnival image post above and claimed that the domain was “engaged in unauthorized activities relating to my copyrighted materials.”
Here’s a screenshot:
At the time, the URL in that email went to a post that was an exact replica of Van Hoven’s — quite literally word for word. The alleged “article” was dated two days before the Spy post first ran. We let our tech and legal teams handle it because we were working on other things, but the original post went down because, on first glance, it did indeed appear to be the same story.
We didn’t think about it again until an anonymous group calling itself Web Activism, which appears to be dedicated to exposing fraudulent DMCA requests, sent us this link concerning a nearly identical request regarding the Google hire post. Its headline reads, “Google’s VP Torrence Boone behind fake DMCA notice sent to Google !!”
Now, if you try to visit the “Fox18” link in the above email, you’ll notice that it goes to a 404 page. That’s because Fox18news.com was a fake site temporarily created by the responsible party specifically to facilitate scam requests like this one. And there is no one named Jennifer Clandon working at “Fox18” or any other company, because no such person exists.
Confused? So were we.
Matters have become clearer, however. In a post addressing the claim related to the “unemployable” story, Web Activism links to an incident report for the DMCA request via Lumen, a collaborative archive of filings like this one. That summary notes that the site on which said AgencySpy story allegedly first appeared was LewisburgTribune.com, with the date listed at January 12 — or the day before Van Hoven’s post went live.
In case you hadn’t already figured it out, LewisburgTribune.com was never a real news site. That URL, along with Fox18News.com, has been linked by Web Activism to unknown parties allegedly attempting to get unflattering stories regarding their clients’ persons or businesses removed from Google’s search results. We have sent several emails to firstname.lastname@example.org over the past two weeks, and we know it is still a working account created by a real person because we haven’t gotten any “delivery failed” notices. But you will almost certainly not be surprised to learn that we have not received any sort of response and don’t expect to.
The Lumen database also includes a separate entry for a 2012 request made by Boone himself, who asked that Google remove the “Hot” post because it contains allegedly copyrighted materials in the form of “A picture of me at a Carnival parade in a costume that includes a blonde and orange clown wig.” It’s unclear whether Google responded to this request.
There are a number of firms specializing in “reputation maintenance” that engage in this sort of activity in the hope that an editor or legal advisor will do exactly what we did: Take a story down after receiving an official-sounding email complete with vaguely threatening legal jargon because they would rather not deal with it.
This is not a new practice. But we wanted to learn more, so last Monday we contacted Mr. Boone. He chose not to interact with us directly, instead forwarding our email to his lawyers at the firm of Engel & Schultz in Boston.
Here’s what they had to say:
“In reply to your email to Mr. Boone, he disputes the defamatory blog post reportef [sp] by AdWeek in 2010 that he was ‘unemployable’. Mr. Boone stands by his service at Enfatico, that he did as fine as job as CEO as possible under the circumstances, that he left the WPP Group on good terms when he accepted an excellent opportunity at Google, where he has since continued to rise in that organization.”
A representative for the law firm in question continued, “We consider these unfounded assertions against Mr. Boone as further defamation of his good name.”
After an additional request for clarity, the lawyer wrote: “From time to time, Mr. Boone has hired digital marketing firms to manage his online profile … they have not taken any action directed toward [you] on behalf of Mr. Boone in March 2016, or at any other time.” He then declined to name the firm that currently represents his client.
We weren’t even aware of these posts prior to receiving the “Clandon” email and the Web Activism link, because they were written several years before our time editing this blog. We have no knowledge of or disagreement with the individual in question or what was the Enfatico organization, and we would also note that — should any person want a comment deleted or a post headline tweaked — he/she should simply reach out to us directly using his/her real name like everyone else.
Boone’s lawyers claim that his reputation firm never contacted our parent company to demand that the offending post be taken down, that they have no knowledge of the incident, and that neither Boone nor the aforementioned, unidentified firm have any idea who may have filed these fake complaints.
As we see it, there are very few potential explanations for this series of events.