Is all PR, Good PR? Not Necessarily.

The subject of my blog this week deserves a place in the “I don’t believe it” Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing). While responding to a classmate’s blog regarding her wonderful tips on how to use social media successfully, I came across a story about a guy who thought that any media attention was good attention. Like a spoiled child, he thought that if he couldn’t get positive attention, he would settle for negative attention. Here’s the story:

A guy named Vitaly Borker owned the online eyewear company, DecorMyEyes. He routinely bilked customers out of their money in several ways: sending fake designer eyeglass frames while advertising and pricing those frames as genuine; overcharging customers after their orders were placed; forcing customers to change their orders saying the brand they wanted was not available; and not refunding unsatisfied customers’ money. But wait, this isn’t all! He also started to threaten those customers that complained with bodily harm that included homicide, dismemberment, and rape! Yeah, this jerk was the epitome of horrible customer service.

In a New York Times article by David Segal, “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web,” he detailed how one customer’s experience with Borker and his company, DecorMyEyes, led to a two-year nightmare of threats, overcharges and pure intimidation. Not only did this guy tell the customer, Clarabelle Rodriguez, that she had to choose a different brand of contacts she ordered, he also charged her more than what the order  came to, by $125! When the glasses she ordered came (without the contact lenses), they were obviously knock-offs of the designer brand she paid for … and he charged her for the contacts that she never received.  She called DecorMyEyes to complain and was met with a rude, hostile customer service representative (Borker himself posing as someone named Tony Russo) that not only profanely refused to refund her money, but also threatened her. He actually told her that he had her address and that he lived only “a bridge away” from her! Ms. Rodriguez then called her credit card company (and the police) and disputed the charges. This, however, did not fix the problem.

Once Mr. Borker found out that Ms. Rodriguez had disputed the charges (and the credit card company refunded her money), he started harassing her daily, even several times a day. During the 60 days it took her credit card company to investigate the disputed charges, she received a letter telling her that they were closing their investigation per her request. Since she had never told them to cancel the dispute, she called her credit card company. Apparently this Borker dude had someone pose as Ms. Rodriguez to have the company drop the dispute! So her credit card company not only added the charges back to her card, but included fees and interest!

You can read the whole sordid story online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/business/28borker.html?pagewanted=all. So I’ll get to how this story relates to social media. After all this happened to Ms. Rodriguez, she complained about Borker and DecorMyEyes on the GetSatisfaction website as well as the ComplaintsBoard.com and ConsumerAffairs.com discussion boards. Here she found others like herself that had been defrauded by Borker. There were hundreds of complaints, but this was only helping the company. With each complaint online, DecorMyEyes was moving up in the search engines!

Borker was profiting by his negative publicity! And he was ecstatic about this. He actually said, “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works” (Segal). When a representative from GetSatisfaction.com asked him to be proactive in remedying all the negative comments his company was receiving, he sent them an email with a photo of him holding up his middle finger. Borker said he almost went so far as to plant a story in the social media that his alter ego committed murder just to increase the hype! Boy, oh boy. What a guy, huh? By exploiting Google’s algorithm that was unable to discern between good publicity and scathing reviews, he was using this negative publicity to his advantage by increasing his Google ranking.

The story has a happy ending fortunately. Google got wind of this man’s story and changed their algorithms (the mathematical formula it uses to rank websites in its search engine) in order to keep this kind of thing from happening again. And, I’m happy to report, Borker was arrested for fraud and sending threatening communications. He was sentenced in September to four years in prison and ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution and fines.

I guess all PR isn’t good PR after all, as Borker erroneously thought. The power of social media can obviously break a business if not used correctly.

Works Cited

Segal, David. “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web.” The New York Times. 26 Nov. 2010. Web. 07 Nov. 2012.

Segal, David. “Web Businessman Sentenced for Threats.” The New York Times. 06 Sep. 2012. Web. 07 Nov. 2012.

Advertisements

What is CAPTCHA?

Have you heard of the “CAPTCHA” tool? Probably not, but I’m sure you’ve seen it and even used it. It’s used by secure websites to prevent automated registrations. It can verify that you are a human who is submitting information to their website and not some sort of “bot.”  I know you’ve seen it: the box that you have to retype the distorted words in to prove you are human. Like this:

Image

CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.” It works because humans can read distorted text and current computers can’t. It was developed by four men at Carnegie Mellon University in 2000 for Yahoo. In fact, there’s a fantastic article available online for free that was written by three of the four creators called, “Telling Humans and Computers Apart: How lazy cryptographers do AI.” It is available here for free: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~biglou/captcha_cacm.pdf. The authors have a sense of humor too, which I loved.  In their article they said—while explaining that it is a computer that is used to determine if the registrant is human or another computer, “Notice the paradox: a CAPTCHA is a program that can generate and grade tests that it itself cannot pass (much like some professors)” (Ahn, Blum & Langford).

There are several practical uses for the tool including preventing comment spam in blogs; verifying online poll respondents; preventing dictionary attacks; and thwarting spam and worms by ensuring that the person sending you an email is a real person.

If your website needs protection, you too can get the Captcha tool on your website for free from the reCAPTCHA project here: http://www.google.com/recaptcha.

There’s also a little known real-world application from the reCAPTCHA project: to help digitize text. According to reCAPTCHA, the tool is used to “Stop spam and help digitize books at the same time! The words shown come directly from old books that are being digitized.” This is done through a “sophisticated combination of multiple OCR programs.” It has allowed programmers to “achieve 99.5% transcription accuracy” from the millions of answers people have put in the challenges. At the link I just provided, you can see a comparison of how the two different texts are translated (OCR vs. reCAPTCHA). It’s pretty incredible. I’ve run across digitized text when I’ve been working on genealogy and can tell you that there is a lot to be desired regarding the translation.

There have been historical books translated online via a PDF and you can readily see the problems with the text. Some of it comes out as characters and/or symbols instead of words making reading somewhat difficult.

Who knew that by using a useful tool like CAPTCHA, we would be helping to digitize old documents.

Works Cited

“CAPTCHA: Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically.” CAPTCHA.net. 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.

“reCAPTCHA: Digitizing Books One Word at a Time.” Google.com/recaptcha. 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.

Von Ahn, Luis, Manuel Blum and John Langford. “Telling Humans and Computers Apart.” Communications of the ACH. February 2004: Vol. 47, No. 3. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.