Keep on Giving
Slander Websites, Spark, Basquiat NFT, NBA Top Shot, and Fake Birthdays
Aaron Krolik and Kashmir Hill write about how nasty things spread online:
They have names like BadGirlReports.date, BustedCheaters.com and WorstHomeWrecker.com. Photos are badly cropped. Grammar and spelling are afterthoughts. They are clunky and text-heavy, as if they’re intended to be read by machines, not humans.
But do not underestimate their power. When someone attacks you on these so-called gripe sites, the results can be devastating.
For about one-third of the people, the nasty posts appeared on the first pages of their results. For more than half, the gripe sites showed up at the top of their image results.
How does this happen? Operators of these sites have created a web of intertwined properties set up to badmouth random people - they depend on user-submitted complaints. Basically, if you have a grudge, and you happen upon one of these websites, you can start a chain reaction to ruin someone’s online life. Earlier this year, Hill wrote about a woman who spent decades spreading lies about perceived enemies.
Who are the people running the complaint sites? Some are pure opportunists, looking to make money by gaming search algorithms. For others, it’s personal:
Mr. Sullivan, 37, of Portland, Ore., has been in the complaint-site business since 2008, when he started STDCarriers.com. It was inspired by his own experience; in his senior year at the University of Oregon, he said, he had sex with a woman who belatedly told him that she had herpes.
“I thought there needs to be a way to warn people about something like that,” Mr. Sullivan said. STDCarriers.com let people anonymously post unverified information about people who they said had sexually transmitted diseases.
Mr. Sullivan said he hadn’t made much money until 2012, when STDCarriers.com attracted national media attention. Anderson Cooper had a daytime talk show at the time, and he did a segment dressing down Mr. Sullivan and others who ran complaint sites. Mr. Sullivan’s web traffic soared, and posts soon flooded the site.
Ironically, media attention around these sorts of complaint and revenge sites drove more people to submit “anonymous” complaints. This led to an increase in what post removal sites could charge unwitting victims:
When I reached out to RepZe via a form on its site to ask about removing one of the posts about me, Sofia called me. She said that for $1,500 the post would be removed within 24 hours. The removal would come with a “lifetime guarantee,” she said.
She encouraged me to act quickly. “I don’t want to scare you, but these posts can spread,” she warned.
Removal companies charge anywhere from $750 to thousands of dollars to remove posts, but in many cases they’re removing them from their own websites:
We had linked Mr. Parmar not just to RepZe but also to another cleanup service, RemoveReports.com. In addition, we had found that he was involved with ReportCheater.com, WebActivism.com, WtfCheater.com, RealtorScam.com and DirtyScam.com. All were listed by RepZe or RemoveReports as places from which they could remove content.
Cool. The “good” news is that Google does allow people to request removal of slander pages from their index - the link can be found here. It doesn’t appear to work on their image search, so really your best bet if you don’t want to end up smeared on the Internet is to never go on it in the first place.
These days, all consumer-facing companies have dirty gig underbellies. Meet Walmart’s delivery app, Spark:
The expansion of Walmart's delivery operation during the pandemic has translated to fierce competition among gig workers for lucrative orders on its Spark app, workers told Motherboard. Posts on several private national Facebook groups for Walmart delivery drivers describe a similar situation. Spark drivers say they need to work longer hours to earn the same income and qualify for bonuses. Some are abandoning the app altogether for Target's delivery app, Shipt, because its customers tip better. (Other gig workers are leaving Shipt and Instacart for Spark.)
Walmart has touted its hiring spree - 170,000 new “personal shoppers” who fulfill delivery and pick up orders in-store, but it’s leaned heavily on gig delivery drivers to get those orders out the door. Unfortunately for those drivers, “working” for Walmart is not lucrative:
DoorDash recently surveyed one million of its gig workers and found widespread dissatisfaction with fulfilling Walmart orders, including low tips and long wait times—issues also voiced by Spark drivers.
The problem with gig delivery is the drivers are often at the mercy of the store’s employees, and may be punished for things completely out of their control:
Spark gig workers say they can wait for 15 minutes up to an hour for an order to be ready once they've accepted the order and notified Walmart that they've arrived at Walmart pick it up. This waiting time is compensated, usually a few dollars, as "effort pay," using a blackbox algorithm, or opaque pay structure.
Spark has been around for a few years, and if you’ve never heard of it chances are that’s because you’re in an area already served by the other gig apps:
Unlike Silicon Valley delivery apps popular in big cities and middle class suburbs, Walmart Spark operates mainly in lower income communities outside of major metropolitan areas, with a big presence throughout the Midwest, the South, and Florida.
Walmart set up a gig delivery network that covers large networks of lower income communities, runs it through a third party vendor, but isn’t willing to compensate its drivers accordingly. Sound about right.
NFTs keep getting weirder. Here’s some words:
An NFT of the [Basquiat] is now being sold on OpenSea marketplace, where bidding starts at one ethereum (the equivalent of around $2,500).
But, in a twist some will view as perverse, the physical drawing will be “deconstructed” on purchase, if the buyer so wishes, leaving the NFT as “the only remaining form” of the Basquiat work, which was authenticated by the late artist’s foundation in 2002.
The auction is sponsored by Daystrom, the self-described “digital provocateurs” behind the online bank the late singer David Bowie launched in 2000. In a statement online, the anonymous founders of Daystrom say: “Value has become increasingly fungible, diluted and unstable in our evolving metaverse and there’s a tremendous spike in user demand for exclusivity. NFT assets provide this exclusivity and create an entirely new online value system that was previously unimaginable.”
So if you purchase this Basquiat sketch you can tell the digital provocateurs to destroy it for you. Okay? Some other people recently burned a Banksy print and sold it as an NFT. Art collectors are free to do whatever they want with the things they buy, and I often say the art market is a scam, but I don’t think destroying the art and keeping digital tokens of it is an improvement over the current system.
An NFT of a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat has been withdrawn from sale on OpenSea after the late artist’s estate confirmed the seller does not own the licence or rights to the work.
David Stark, the licensing agent who deals with Basquiat’s archive, tells The Art Newspaper: “The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat owns the copyright in the artwork referenced. No license or rights were conveyed to the seller and the NFT has subsequently been removed from sale.”
This is a problem with NFTs - there may not be a way to verify whether the seller even owns the work in question - and in many cases buyers don’t care. I will say it was a clever gambit if they’d been able to pull it off - sell a piece of art you don’t own, hope the buyer tells you to destroy it, and presto! You’ve made off with a bunch of crypto, and you don’t have to provide the artwork, which you never actually owned. There might be easier scams, but this one has an element of uncertainty, which makes it more exciting.
NBA Top Shot
Sick of reading about NFTs yet? Here’s a story about NBA Top Shot, which is an officially licensed NFT marketplace that sells “digitized moments from pro basketball”. Sure, why not. The problem is, it’s become wildly popular, and now people can’t get their cash out:
Dapper Labs, the $7.5 billion company behind NBA Top Shot, has struggled to deal with a massive influx of new buyers and sellers on its platform. After a month of stunning growth (Dapper Labs says NBA Top Shot has 100 times as many users since the beginning of the year) The site has frequently been down for maintenance, and customers have flooded Twitter and Dapper Lab's official Discord channel with complaints about being unable to withdraw their money.
"I just wanna get my money out man," complained user "Harry" in the "#vent" channel of the NBA Top Shot Discord.
I feel for Harry, but also - if you’re a multibillion dollar company with a digital marketplace backed by a major sports league, maybe you don’t need a Discord server with a channel called “vent” for customer complaints? I have spent a lot of time on the Internet and if you give your customers a public forum to anonymously drag you, they are absolutely going to do that.
Anyhow, what seems to be happening is Dapper Labs is understaffed and can’t handle the number of sales and withdrawals on its platform, which is pissing a lot of people off, but will hopefully be fine. Unlike a crypto exchange, it’s unlikely Top Shot will just make off with everyone’s money. If I am wrong, at least I can write about that when it happens.
A man in Japan allegedly dated 35 women at the same time just to manipulate them into giving him lavish gifts for made-up birthdays.
First of all, that is quite the assumption on the part of the author. Was that the only reason he dated them? How do you know that? Let’s not be judgey.
While Miyagawa was born on Nov. 13, he led his victims to give him the presents for "birthdays" in April, July, and February. His idea was to ensure a constant supply of presents throughout the year.
Maybe he’s just really into presents? The police say he only defrauded his victims out of $925 and while that’s not nothing, it pales in comparison to the average romance scam.
Miyagawa, who has no permanent address, works part-time as a salesman for a multi-level marketing company, according to Soranews24. He met his victims while selling hydrogen water shower heads and other equipment.
I’m starting to feel less sympathetic. What are “hydrogen water” shower heads? Isn’t that just a regular shower head?
After uncovering Miyagawa’s scheme, the women formed a “Victims Association” and reported the womanizing fraudster to police in February, according to Mainichi Broadcasting System.
Very good. I wish they published transcripts of these chats. I bet they had a lot to say.
To be clear, it is not good to scam anyone for any reason, but there is something amusing about a transient shower head salesman conning dozens of women into giving him small birthday presents throughout the year. Maybe they’ll make him tell his neighbors his birthday when he moves into a new apartment, as a registered gift offender.
Bloomberg - “In a case that has riveted Singapore’s moneyed classes, Ng was charged last month with four counts of fraud for allegedly raising at least S$1 billion ($740 million) from investors for commodity trades that didn’t exist.”
NY Times - “New York City on Wednesday sued the fast-food giant Chipotle Mexican Grill over what it says are hundreds of thousands of violations of a fair scheduling law at several dozen stores.”
The Register - “The US government's consumer watchdog cannot force scammers to return the money they cheated out of their victims, the Supreme Court declared unanimously this week.”
NY Times - “European Union regulators on Friday accused Apple of violating antitrust laws by imposing unfair rules and fees on rival music-streaming services that depend on the App Store to reach customers.”
Tips, thoughts, or a steady stream of birthday gifts to email@example.com