Who Asked Google to Delist Negative News Reports About Trump’s Pseudoscientific Urine Test Marketing Scheme?

— Between May and August 2018, someone anonymously sent Google at least eight legal complaints in an effort to scrub the Internet of negative reporting about The Trump Network, a scammy multi-level marketing scheme that sold customised urine tests. Trump is currently being sued for his involvement in the scheme

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President Donald J. Trump is currently being sued for lending his name to three multi-level marketing (MLM) companies plaintiffs allege amounted to massive consumer fraud. But just two months prior to that lawsuit being filed, someone sent Google a series of anonymous legal complaints in a surreptitious attempt to scrub negative news reports about one of those companies from the Internet.

Alleging defamation, the unknown complainant sought to remove reporting by The Washington Post, STAT News, and Quackwatch, that cast a critical eye on the now-defunct Trump Network, a new-age, pseudoscientific MLM scheme that purportedly offered “millions of people new hope with an exciting plan to opt-out of the recession” and “develop your own financial independence.”

At least, that’s how Trump pitched the company in a shouty 2009 pre-launch video aimed at prospective recruits. In reality, the company was a “thinly disguised pyramid scheme” that tried “to use people[’]s hopes and dreams to empty their wallets,” according to allegations published by The Washington Post in March 2016.

Originally named Ideal Health, the company invited independent salespeople to do their own marketing to sell a customised vitamin supplement package, which was determined by conducting urine hormone tests using the company’s signature product, the PrivaTest. But experts questioned the test’s medical value.

“Urine tests do not provide a legitimate basis for recommending that people take dietary supplements,” wrote Quackwatch founder Stephen Barrett in 2003 (to read STAT News’ definitive report on The Trump Network, click here).

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In 2011, Trump’s licensing deal with Ideal Health expired and was not renewed. The assets were then sold to a “health and wellness” company named Bioceutica, which until last year was still selling the rebranded Trump Network vitamin packages and urine tests.

The identity of the mystery defamer claimer remains unclear, but the wording used by the unknown complainant strongly suggests that Bioceutica, or someone acting on behalf of Bioceutica, filed the complaints.

Here is an example of one of the complaints from June 2018 that sought to remove the Washington Post’s reporting. Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown demands:

Defamation Complaint to Google

SENDER
REDACTED
COUNTRY: US

RECIPIENT
Google LLC
[Private]
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US

SUBMITTER
Google LLC

Re: Unknown
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN

NOTICE TYPE: Defamation

Legal Complaint
Dear Google, I want to discuss the defamatory page that has been created, and I wish to submit it for removal from google searches for ‘Bioceutica’. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/23/the-trump-network-sought-to-make-people-rich-but-left-behind-disappointment/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.90919a6e392f I have familiarised myself with Google’s defamation policy and have determined that the web page was clearly made to make my company appear fraudulent and deceptive. Defamation is defined as “the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image.” This webpage is suggesting that the Bioceuitca brand runs under a multi-level marketing system, through the term ‘as part of a controversial business model known as multilevel marketing, in which companies pay salespeople commissions for se …

And here is another complaint from April 2018 that sought to remove Quackwatch’s “Scaremongerish claims against Bioceutica’s PrivaTest”:

Defamation Complaint to Google

SENDER
REDACTED
COUNTRY: GB

RECIPIENT
Google LLC
[Private]
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US

SUBMITTER
Google LLC

Re: Unknown
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN

NOTICE TYPE: Defamation

Legal Complaint
I would like this URL omitted from the search results for ‘Bioceutica’ and ‘Privatest’. I understand that this will not remove the above URL from the internet entirely, but it will prevent this URL from being prominent in the searches for the above terms. The above URL is for a site that states itself as ‘Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions’. And makes outdated, false, and Scaremongerish claims against Bioceutica’s PrivaTest. It claims that the company is making ‘Illegal Health Claims’, However, the documents it cites containing these illegal health claims are the creation and property of ‘Ideal Health’. This is despite the author earlier confirming that Ideal Health sold the PrivaTest to Antoine Nohra of Montreal, Canada thus becoming the property Bioceutica. This means subsequently, that Ideal Health’s 28-page “Opportunity Presentation” which the author states contains illegal claims is in no way r …

To read the complaint against STAT News, click here.

It does not appear that Google has removed any of the targeted URLs from its search results.

Bioceutica’s founder Antoine Nohra did not reply to a request for comment, although a message on the Bioceutica website says the company ceased operations in September 2018.

The Takedown Conspiracy

— Articles by WashPost, Techdirt about fake takedown requests targeted by anonymous defamation takedown request

Last year, a Washington Post investigation by First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh (of the Volokh Conspiracy, now published at Reason.com) exposed how some people were using forged court orders to force Google to delist links.

Via “Apparent forged court order for the benefit of a New Britain (Conn.) volunteer city commissioner” by Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post, March 30, 2017:

Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then things got really interesting: Two weeks ago, someone asked Google to deindex the New Britain Independent article and the petition, and the request was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit and closed with:

Plaintiff is granted damages for all counts as to Defendant Robert Berriault. Defendant must also remove and retract statements made referencing Plaintiff Haas.

The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick subsequently detailed the apparent forgery here.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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If you can’t read that, it says:

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

As of publication, the articles are still searchable using Google.