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 Trump Network: Caveat Emptor

— A quick look at Trump’s failed new-age pyramid scheme

“At no time in recent history has our economy been in the state that is today. It’s a mess. The economic meltdown, greed, and ineptitude of the financial industry have sabotaged the dreams of millions of people. Americans need a new plan. They need a new dream” – Donald Trump, POTUS

No, that’s not Trump’s election pitch to the American people, but the pitch he gave to participants of The Trump Network, a new-age pyramid scheme that offered “millions of people new hope with an exciting plan to opt-out of the recession” and “develop your own financial independence.”

The Trump Network was born in 2009 when Trump licensed his name to Ideal Health, a multi-level marketing business founded in 1997 by Lou DeCaprio and brothers Scott and Todd Stanwood. Ideal Health 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.

In a 2008 review article for Alternative Medicine Review, the test’s inventor, J. Alexander Bralley, claimed that urinary biomarkers “provide insight into diseases possibly caused or complicated by toxin accumulation and detoxification responses.”

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 and retired psychiatrist Stephen Barrett in 2003. Barrett later speculated that Ideal Health had acted illegally by falsely claiming that the PrivaTest could “improve” and “support” physical and mental health.

That didn’t stop Trump hawking branded PrivaTests on the now-defunct Trump Network website, where they sold for a whopping $139.95 per box.

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Speaking to STAT in 2016, executive president of The Trump Organization Alan Garten said that Trump “was endorsing the idea behind the business” but that his role “did not amount to an endorsement of the products” themselves.

However, in a “personal letter” published on the Trump Network site, Trump appeared to give his stamp of approval.

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To promote the company’s “cutting-edge,” “revolutionary” products and multi-level marketing concept, Trump even had planned an all-out publicity tour that was set to be “the biggest media campaign in the history of network marketing,” and “the legacy he leaves with all Americans.”

Trump would be seen “on the likes of Oprah, the Tonight Show, Larry King, the Today show, numerous press releases, online news broadcasts, major business magazines, and every daily newspaper in America – as well as newspaper business sections.”

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In reality, the job of promoting the company was largely left to independent marketers via “personal self-replicating” sites and other, more innovative methods.

Results varied.

In one misplaced attempt at viral marketing, a Trump Network recruit used Google Books to issue a press release under items relating to Trump.

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Curiously, the author of the release gave only modest ratings of Trump’s books. One book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, received a meagre two stars.

And the fun doesn’t stop there.

In August 2009, Wikipedia deleted a page that was created for The Trump Network after it fell foul of the site’s abuse guidelines. The page, authored by a user named “Trumpwellness” and signed-off by “Donald J. Trump,” was deleted by admins because it contained “obvious advertising or promotional material.”

Rejected Trump Network Wikipedia entry (source)

Another innovative way marketers sought to enlist new recruits was by speaking to them directly using online forums. Going by some of the responses, this approach might have worked. But as the company fell into decline, pending lawsuits and accompanying PR disasters, it too failed to take.

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

Last year it was revealed that, between 1999-2004, the Federal Trade Commission received 56 complaints against Ideal Health. According to official documents, marketing recruits complained that the company “made money off of marketers by misrepresenting what their marketing system can do” and placing “pressure on marketers to purchase all the companies tools in order to succeed.”

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