A word on impersonation

So it seems that a tweet I posted earlier tonight really hit a chord with the online zeitgeist.

My tweet specifically called for the sacking of 2DayFM Sydney presenters Mel Greig, Michael Christian & their producers in respect of their impersonating members of the British Royal Family when calling a hospital for the sole purpose of obtaining details about the medical condition of the Dutchess of Cambridge.

For those who don’t know, Jacintha Saldanha – the hospital nurse/receptionist who took this prank call and disclosed information she likely wasn’t supposed to has been found dead this morning UK time, suspected to have committed suicide at a location near her place of employment, King Edward VII’s Hospital.

As of writing, my tweet has reteeted by no less than 296 308 individuals in the space of two 16 hours, with a current estimated combined reach of over 20,000 100,000+ persons. It has been retweeted so many times that Twitter’s own email engine that notifies customers of retweets stopped sending me messages an hour ago. This is not withstanding that my iPad continues to chime every 30-60sec informing of a new retweet.

Anyway, background noise aside – my posting of my thoughts to Facebook lead to some friends raising a couple of interesting points and alternative views in respect of the story. These friends posited views including:

  • “If the nurse followed the rules, it would have never got to this point.”
  • “And she could have been planning to top herself for days or have a history of mental illness.”
  • “Yes it is sad. Yes the prank was in bad taste but you cannot control a persons mental state or predict it. The correlation is very loose.”

Now I don’t disagree with those points one bit – they are perfectly valid views to express, and obviously none of us can even beging to understand if there are any other factors outside of this prank call which could have contibuted to this lady taking her own life.

However, one must look at the flipside of this. While these points of view may centre around the latin falacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after it, therefore because of it), one must shine a light directly at all those parties involved in the execution and broadcast of the prank.

The question therefore must be asked: Could a normal person reasonably forsee that the prank would obtain information to which those doing so were not entitled, and could the broadcast of this information have forseeably lead to sustained, significant public embarassment for the nurse in question should their identity be revealled.

My answer to those questions, as a normal person, would be yes – on both counts.

I am firmly of the view that any normal, reasonable person could have forseen this as an outcome. One need only look at the way the British press has operated in recent times – leading to the establishment of a major parlimentary enquiry lead by Lord Justice Leveson that will most likely lead to more stringent press regulation.

Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence

Anyone with a background in any form of broadcasting knows full well that the prank as conducted was not only a gross invasion of privacy by attempting to impersonate someone – much less members of that countries royal family, but the sheer number of offences the two hosts plus others involved have committed under Australian, UK and EU law.

The first of these that comes to mind Criminal Code (Cwlth) 1995, Section 474.17:

474.17 Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the person uses a carriage service; and
(b) the person does so in a way (whether by the method of use or the content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years.

The call to the hospital in London would have originated from a telephone service operated by, from, or transiting a carriage service within Australia, therefore the placing of that telephone call would fall within the definitions of the act, but also 474.17 and other aspects of the Commonwealth and NSW criminal codes.

And this is before we even consider offences under UK or EU criminal statutes, as the call was terminated in those locales, and therefore such activity also gives rise to criminal liability there. We need not re-visit the outrage uncovered during the Levenson Enquiry of the large scale of ignorance, invasion of privacy and illegal activity conducted by the press solely for the purpose of a story.

The radio codes of practice

We also have to look at that the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice which exist for the industry because of statuatory legislation. These codes are ones which are legally binding tha all broadcasters legally have to follow, and can be enforced by the regulatory agency when breached.

Their existance and legal standing is empowered by Section 43 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

The Commercial Radio Codes of Practice make a number of statements in respect of this kind of content:

9.1 Subject to Codes 9.2 to 9.3 below, a licensee must not broadcast a program which, in all of the circumstances:
(a) treats participants in live hosted entertainment programs in a highly demeaning or highly exploitative manner;

One could argue that the impersonation of members of the royal family for the sole purpose of gaining information on a member of the royal household would constitute treating a participant, unknowingly, in a “highly exploitative manner“.

Reasonable privacy, and an invalid argument of public interest

One area of the codes that has yet to be legally tested is if programs that would be considered as live entertainment could actually be reclassified as news and current affairs programs – on account that the presenters frequently engage in updating their audience with such information, and they usually broadcast news at frequent intervals.

If this was tested legally, and found that the radio show in question could be treated as news and current affairs programs under the codes of practice, Section 2.1 of same then comes into play. It states:

“2.1 News programs (including news flashes) broadcast by a licensee must:
(d) not use material relating to a person‟s personal or private affairs, or which invades an individual‟s privacy, unless there is a public interest in broadcasting such information.”

On this point, the argument of public interest fails. The official media channel for the party in question, being the Press Office of St James Palace did issue a media release containing reasonable detail in respect of the Dutchess’s hospitalisation. It can be reasonably argued that no more information other than what was contained in that release needed to be made available as there wasn’t a clear public interest reason for doing so.

Having dispensed with the public interest argument, we then must look at if the action was an invasion of an individuals privacy. On that case, the lay person must say yes. Any reasonable person would have known that calling up any such place for information on a patient and impersonating a member of their family to do so was both illegal and improper, and would unreasonably invade the privacy of both the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge, as well as their extended family and of course the British Monarcy.

Station exhibited poor moral judgement

And then we have to look at the moral aspect of it. You’d have to be a pretty dumb person not to know the undue and unnecessary pressure this would put on the poor women taking the call.

While I grant that she may have not acted within relevant professional standards and requirements in respect of information disclosure, the publication of the prank and the obvious subsequent naming of the poor lady, would forseeably lead to undue emotional stresses which was likely to have either caused, or contributed to, the reasons behind her reported suicide.

2DayFM has not learned its lesson

2DayFM has been frequently critisised by the regulator for its breaches of the codes of practice. Some of the stations more notable breaches in recent times include:

  1. 2006: Broadcasting inappropriate sexual material during Lowie’s Hot 30 Countdown
  2. 2010: Failed to provide protection for children participating in live hosted entertainment programs broadcast by 2DAY-FM, resulting in a license condition being imposed.
  3. May 2012: Comments by Kyle Sandilands breach decency standards, where the station had a second license condition imposed on it after the aforementioned presenter “broadcast[ed] indecent content and content that demeans women or girls“.

The imposing of the May 2012 license condition was also appealed by the station to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who ruled to uphold ACMA’s decision to impose the condition.

So, where do we go from here?

In the UK, the debate about who is fit and proper to hold licenses or positions that allow them to act as a media outlet is one that continues. It’s also a debate, that whilst not as intense, is being had in Australia.

Should the laws be changed so that repeat offenders can be dealt with more swiftly? Yes.

Should the laws be changed so that media outlets who repeatidly breach the expected standards lose their right to broadcast?
Absolutely.

Would these two outcomes combined force media companies to be more cautious in how they do business to protect their assets, by not allowing presenters like those named above to conduct stupid pranks, if they knew the government could close them down and take everything they own and have built with the stroke of a few pens? I submit they would be more cautious, and put their presenters on much shorter leashes given the financial risk to them if they constantly make missteps – particually ones that lead such tragic circumstances.

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A follow-up on Contractjobs.com spam: Email Blaster concurs, enforces TOS

Well it seems my publicising the spamming activities of Contractjobs.com bore fruit.

After correspondence back and forth, I have since been advised of the following by Email Blaster UK:

EBUK [has] investigated all claims made individually and had upheld the allegations that a breach had occurred; appropriate action was then promptly taken in accordance with our T&C’s which are available in the public domain.

In the discussions with EBUK, they disclosed that they had received a significant number of complaints regarding the spam activities of Contractjobs.com. They also noted that a large number of these had come in as a direct result of my original post & and could be directly attributed to my speaking up regarding their activities.

One of their officers suggested during an email exchange that they [EBUK] might like me to handle their SEO in the future. A small plaudit to me, but one I’d decline due to the sad difficulty of dealing with out-of-country customers and how I prefer to work.

A further comment on the original post by redX has also suggested that they have moved onto another electronic Direct Mail house, streamsend.com, so that they continue to send their junk.

And now for the icing on this war on spam cake: the UK’s Information Commissioner has this week accepted my complaint against Contractjobs.com for investigation.

While Contractjobs.com has moved on to use another email provider, at least this step has had some success & put the company on notice. If they’ve not cleaned up their act by the time the UK’s Information Commissioner comes knocking, then I dare say that their bad acts and fruit of the poison spam tree will come back to bite them, hard!

If you are still being spammed by Contractjobs.com, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Use Spamcop.net to identify and report the spam to their mail hosts or electronic direct mail companies.
  2. File a formal complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office for them to investigate any Contractjobs.com spam
  3. Use the information from the Spamcop analysis to identify the company they’re using, see what their Terms of Service are in respect of spam, and complain directly to them.

Yes – taking action against spam in this method may take 30min or more of your time, however – the more people who take action against spam from UK/EU companies and corporates, the better chance we have of stamping the practice out in at least one part of the world.

By the way Lucy Plumridge – how are you enjoying the negative publicity arising from your use of the illegal fruit of the poison tree? I’m still getting truckloads of traffic from people searching for you, your company and its spamming. Talk about your chickens coming home to roost.

What’s worse: Spamming people, or using email lists gained from hacking activities?

Update:The efforts to bring Contractjobs.com to account for their spam have had result;, including Email Blaster UK taking action, and the UK Information Commissioner commencing an investigation. More information on the progress of this is available over here.


Well, you know just how much I detest spam – but tonight I’m a little more incensed.

Cast your minds back – and you’ll no doubt you remember the Playstation Network security breach in early 2011, which saw the personal details of users on that service compromised by hackers and leaked out to the world.

Well my details including my primary email address were in the information leaked. Thankfully I practice a high level of security by never using the same password twice, and not storing credit card information as well as using throw-away credit cards or debit cards to reduce the financial risks.

I have previously looked into using disposable email addresses, but these are too much of a hassle in my view. Further, my hosted email provider does not make available the use of DNS-based block lists (such as Spamcop) for filtering out & blocking inbound email from open proxies and known spam hosts despite asking them to do so.

Anyway, let’s get back to the point.

In short, an email came in at 2209hrs AWST from a Lucy Plumridge, Contract Support Manager (Lucy.plumridge@contractjobs.com, LinkedIn Profile for Lucy Plumridge) of a UK site named contractjobs.com. Here’s the email in question:

Dear redacted,

I’m writing to you on behalf of Contractjobs.com.

We would like to introduce you to Contractjobs.com , the UK’s fastest growing contract specific job site. The contract market has grown 14% year on year and many professionals are now turning to the contractor market in order to take advantage of this trend.

Last year we helped thousands of contractors find their next contract role and are already considered to be the largest contract job board in the UK, with over 12,000 live contracts both with the UK’s leading agencies and direct clients.

Please take a moment to upload your CV and you will be entered into a prize draw to win two tickets to the London 2012 Olympics this summer*.

We look forward to working with you.

Kind regards,

Lucy Plumridge
Contract Support Manager

*The competition draw will be held on Friday 25th May 2012. The winners will be notified by email and details published on the Contractjobs.com website.

Contractjobs.com, Mortimer House, 40 Chatsworth Parade, London, BR51DE, United Kingdom

Our mailing address is:
Mortimer House
40 Chatsworth Parade
Petts Wood
Kent BR5 1DE Communication was sent to you byLucy Plumridge
This system is for permission based email;
report abuse . I do not wish to receive any
further communications.

Now I know I’ve never done business with them, never supplied them with my email address, nor ever given them or a 3rd party they might deal with to contact me. The fact they were a UK operation was more interesting, as I’ve never expressed or sought out employment opportunities in the UK.

So, the only way they could have come into possession of my address is either via a purchased list, and especially one that was compiled from illegally or improperly sourced details.

Analysing the email, they used a eDM (electronic direct mail) house called Email Blaster UK. Now not withstanding the comprehensive regulations and directives on contained within Article 13 of the European Commission Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications – Email Blaster make it expressly clear in their terms of service that;

We do not allow clients to use purchased lists under any circumstances – this applies to both B2B & B2B marketing, email databases must have been generated directly by the client’s website using the recognized Opt-in process.

So, with the EC regulations/directives and the companies stated terms of service – Contractjobs has broken the rules.

Thankfully, the Email Blaster team was hot on the case within 21 minutes of me contacting them. I’d received a response from one of their Account Managers; advising that any references to my email address or domain within the databases they hold for Contractjobs.com have been immediately removed, and that they are immediately opening an investigation into the TOS violation.

And I’d hate to be Contractjobs.com at the moment – because Email Blaster charge clients GBP 150 for each confirmed spam incident. If they have purchased or used a harvested mailing list, they could be in for some serious charges and penalties from their email last night.

Now you might be wondering why I’ve written this post – and I’m happy to tell you. I’m of the view that communication is the best weapon in preventing spam & generating awareness of the problem. And being an SEO Practitioner, I know full well that the way I’ve structured this blog entry will ensure that, in perpetuity, this incident will be permanently tagged and forever appear in the search results for Contractjobs.com. It’ll serve as a clear warning for anyone considering to use their services that they are a confirmed spammer, breached their countries anti-spam rules, and have purchased email lists obtained by illegal means.

And if you don’t think this works, ask Pav Sanka and his company VinSky Consulting International what happened after he sent me LinkedIn spam. It had immediate impacts in search engine results.

And if you know me personally, ask me about StarTrack Express and what happened to them in January 2005 after their played depot soccer with a package being delivered to me. A former blog I used to ran documented the whole incident, to the point where three negative and fully documented blog entries appeared about their own site in search results for their company name. It was even to the point where their own IT people attempted to take down my blog (a bad move, as I posted the entire log file and details of what they attempted online, creating another SEO entry outranking their own site – ouch).

So yes, nice move Contractjobs.com. Your stupidity by buying email lists obtained from hacking activities has just landed you in a nice little SEO hole. I’ll sleep easy tonight knowing that your reputation will be permanently tarnished because of your own stupidity and non-existent business ethics.