another freaky website (aboutus.org)

I’m really not surprised. Not one bit. But here’s another website that’s publishing our information without permission.

This time they claim to be a wiki and that they are gathering information about other websites. On the page aboutus.org/spoken-for.org, I found the first part of my about page was ripped off and I was listed as having lived in the US and they listed an email address for me as well as links to Alexa about my website and sites they considered to be related (75% were not related whatsoever including a blog I recognize but don’t visit but is marked by Alexa as being related to me).

Now, as disturbing as that all was, there are even more disturbing “wiki website” pages. I looked up some on friends. One friend has their whole address and phone number listed… along with a Google map to their house. That is disturbing. They even grabbed the image of a friend’s website header and put it on his page.

Yes, this information is available via whois records that are not protected and anyone can use Google to get a map, but I find it disturbing that this site is listing this information as a third party, and as I read on other posts about this site, asking for donations and volunteers to help with the site. How very fishy.

And, really, think about it. This site is a wiki site which means that anyone who’s not banned from the site can edit any page. Do you see where I’m going with this? Anyone could get in there and repost my information if they wanted to, after I’d removed it. You do not even have to verify your email address to get posting/deleting (I know, I’ve not verified mine). Not to mention the concerns of the history of pages that others have voiced. This could end up being the bathroom stall door of all websites.

Think your website is protected and you are immune? You may not be. I just checked out the page of a friend’s site – it’s been passworded for some time now yet information still remains… check it out. Do aboutus.org/yourwebsite.tld and see what comes up.

Well right away, a friend and I got an account (I used a forwarder, not my real address) and started editing our information out. I started doing some Googling and did find out that you can opt-out of this “service” (more on that later), and, of course, I found some early adopters who have already blogged on this:

  • sonspring.com/journal/aboutusorg-a-sham
  • adamreyher.com/aboutus-broke-my-copyright
  • molly.com/…oh-just-what-i-need-more-stalkers/
  • Here’s what you can do to start to opt out, in the words of aboutus.org:

    Some people have expressed concern that they don’t want either the description of their site or their contact information shown on AboutUs pages and further that deleting the information using the standard edit is insufficient because the history remains. We now have a way to get rid of the history and reinstate a domain page with a minimal set of information. This will prevent the page from getting recreated and contact information restored by the bot. It’s not automated yet, but send me (ray@aboutus.org) any names you own and wish to have scrubbed in this manner and I will do them manually for now.

    And here’s a sample letter that Bes wrote that you can send to Mr. Ray King at aboutus.org:

    As per instructions on:

    http://www.aboutus.org/How_can_I_OptOut_of_AboutUs/

    I am writing to request to have the following sites removed from AboutUs.org:

    http://domain.com
    http://domain.net
    http://domain.org

    Thank you. Waiting for your reply.

    Regards,
    Domain Owner

    http://www.aboutus.org/AboutUsBot also gives some information on the Aboutus Bot. Notice the User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; AboutUsBot/0.9; +http://www.aboutus.org/AboutUsBot). If you’re using Owen’s new plugin for WordPress, AntiLeech in regards to the Bitacle blow-up, you should be able to apply the same treatment to Aboutus that you do Bitacle and other bad bots.

    Once again, I’m sure I’ll be updating this post as new things come into light.

    UPDATES:

    Here’s what I posted in the comments below about my opt-out experience:

    I did get a response to my opt-out email:

    I didn’t check, but are all of these sites already on AboutUs? I’m
    happy to opt out the ones that are, but do you want me to make optout
    articles for the ones that aren’t?

    I’m running this site because I think that over time it will become a
    valuable resource; that said, I understand your comment/concern.

    I had listed 33 domains to be opted out, all the ones in my account/possession. That included some that are “up and coming” as well as some that were once used but not used currently… all just for good measure.

    I then replied that I hadn’t checked all of them either, but YES, opt them ALL out.

    His second paragraph was in response to my basically saying it would have been nice to have been contacted before my personal information was added to that site with a map to my house and allowing anyone who wanted to the ability to change the pages…

    He responded a second time to say that he has done the opt-outs. I’m off to check on them now…

    Also, I’ve recently discovered a few more things that people around the net are discussing.

    If your domain does not have a page and someone searches aboutus for it… yup it’s created on the fly. I saw this happen before my eyes with a domain I’m working on for my cousin. It was registered only a couple of weeks ago, if that.

    Also, I noticed that on some of our opt out pages that there was the following note:

    Note to website owner: If you would like to opt back in to AboutUs, you may do so by simply editing this page and replacing it with a structure similar to any other page you like and replacing the contents with your own, or just add your URL to this page and we’ll take care of it. — AboutUs.org team.

    Then of course, with a link to yet another page that just anyone can edit and add your site back to be re-added to aboutus!

    Someone, please tell me what is wrong with all this!!

    25 Comments

    1. Awesome! Ahahahaha – I admit, the thought didn’t even occur to me!!

    2. Feel free to edit. Don’t you love Wikis? ;)

    3. This is scary, thanks for telling Val! I’m heading over to Owen!

    4. D’oh! Someone removed my somewhat unflattering description of Bitacle on AboutUs. At least it’s in the history…

    5. Thanks, Valerie. Maybe we should edit our addresses to be 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC.

    6. I did get a response to my opt-out email:

      I didn’t check, but are all of these sites already on AboutUs? I’m
      happy to opt out the ones that are, but do you want me to make optout
      articles for the ones that aren’t?

      I’m running this site because I think that over time it will become a
      valuable resource; that said, I understand your comment/concern.

      I had listed 33 domains to be opted out, all the ones in my account/possession. That included some that are “up and coming” as well as some that were once used but not used currently… all just for good measure.

      I then replied that I hadn’t checked all of them either, but YES, opt them ALL out.

      His second paragraph was in response to my basically saying it would have been nice to have been contacted before my personal information was added to that site with a map to my house and allowing anyone who wanted to the ability to change the pages…

      He responded a second time to say that he has done the opt-outs. I’m off to check on them now…

    7. Oops, posted the comment in the wrong page, thiswas my comment for this post.

    8. Urgh, I’ve dealt with this one too. They don’t take their info from the whois database, they take it from alexa.com. I have my whois info protected so I was horrified to discover that my full name, address and phone number were displayed. I then discovered that they were getting their info from Alexa (I’m not sure how I discovered that) and that Alexa too were displaying my full details. How they got those details I don’t know, but I edited the aboutus.org page, and contacted Alexa to get them to take my private details off their records… But they haven’t done a thing about it. Grrr.

    9. Holy crap, I’m on there too. I didn’t think I would be, but now I’m off to send an e-mail…

    10. HOLY COW ! I’m on there too! For crying out loud!

    11. Thanks for reading my blog and reposting this. I’m still furious about AboutUs.org and what they did using my information. If you read my blog post (here and here), the main thing I was concerned about was copyright violation.

      However, as you noted in this post, WHOIS information was also placed on each site’s page. And like you said, this information is available to anyone who does a simple query for it. With that being the case, every mainstream registrar I’m aware of (domains, enom, etc), prefaces the WHOIS page with a disclaimer stating that said information is NOT to be reproduced in any fashion, which they are blatantly doing.

      – Adam

    12. As a system op on aboutus.org, i can tell you none of the information gathered by the bots is private, or it wouldn’t be gathered. Anyone can do a whois lookup and get the registration information on a domain.

      I’ve recently gave up as system op, and opted out all my sites from it after a squable with another sysop who thinks hes a lawyer, and insists anything added to a page on aboutus.org becomes property of aboutus.org, which couldn’t be further fro the truth.

      Site owners, especilly ones such as myself who have permission to use content from music artists and other celebrities for promotion, don’t allow such content to be taken and used by other sources. By placing it ona page on aboutus.orgabout the specific site itself, is simple information about the site. I created a template with a copyright info tag to be placed as a disclaimer and warning to viewers, and it was constantly removed and deleted under the pretense that if it’s on aboutus.org, it’s aboutus.org’s property now.

      Ray’s idea, though a good one, leaves several problems, such as anyone being able to edit pages
      1. not every website owner is aware of about us, and if soeone else creates the age about their site, and they dont know about it, it could be a negaive page, which will crawl around search engines and directories, potentially harming businesses that rely on their website. (edits should be registered only, and vandals should be banned)
      2. too many cheifs and not enough indians, and no specific guidelines… this is bad, especially when a sysop thinks he’s the almighty and has learned all about entertainment copyrights in 5 minutes when you’ve been dealing with it for 20 years.
      3. help and instructions are very spread around, ahrd tto find, hard to folow, most people are lamens on this stuff, especially with wiki’s which don’t work like most websites.

      all in all, no fault lies in how the bots gather information, the problems lie in some of the humans, and that the site was online and going before it was compeletely thought out

      I’m not going to pursue anything towards my sites lsitings as I removed them myself, but I wont be suprised when some kid edits a page for an official celebrity site, adds images and text content they shouldn’t, and about us.org gets sued heavily for damages because of it. They don’t do true verification of site owners (nearly impossible without directly emailing th eprson at an emaila ddress for the specific sight itself), and there will be many problems to arise from it (and i’ve seen it happen hundreds of times over the years with simular sites).

    13. Alan – while your three points are very good, you have not addressed the comment where Amelie states that her info has been private yet it was still found on aboutus.org and alexa. That is unacceptable.

      The main point of this is not that WHOIS is public – every domain owner knows this basic fact. It is that this information is being taken and displayed elsewhere and without permission giving anyone the rights to edit. There are two problems with getting information removed as well: 1. if you just delete it all, the “system” or another person may think it was spam or maliciousness or something and just put it all back up there once you’ve turned your back again, and 2. even if that does not happen, your information is still stuck in the history of the page.

      Case in point: aboutus.org is a really bad idea. If someone wants to know about any of my websites, well, they can just visit the website in question.

    14. Fact about the copyright infringement is, it is legal to take a sniplet from a website and display it as a quote from the website. That is considered fair usage (jsut like a 30 econd clip of a song or video, there arelimits on how much may be used, but still, part can be used for such a purpose).

      where AboutUs.org may be going wrong is they could be taking too much from the main page of the website, or there could be an image or something simular that falls into where it takes the sniplet from, which would be a configuration on their algorythems they need to get right.

      Wiki’s in general are a bad idea.. or to be more acurate, a joke. Why would anyone actually rely on accurate, truthful information from a wiki site when litterally anyone can edit any page, and the chance of a mistake being caught by the ‘sysops’, ‘admins’, or ‘beaurocrats’ is slim to none since they don’t know everything there is to know about the information displayed on every article in the wiki.

      so now, webmasters and others have to go checking wiki’s because there are those people who will take the information as factual. an example would be my websites, which are official and non official artist sites in the music industry. Almost every rumor, every wrong upcoming album name and tracklist, among other things, all start from wikipedia or some other newly started wikimedia site. as they get higher search rankings and index rankings, more and more who dont know what a wiki is find this false information, and rumor patrol needs to start before it gets too out of hand (i’ve expeiecned this problem sevral times already in the past couple of years).

      The whole wiki idea may be a nice thought, but lets face it.. putting together a website that is as large as a wiki site with as much content, knowing it’ll have thousands to millions of hits per week, and expect to be able to trust millions of people is nuts.. would work in maybe fantasyland, but not on the modern internet.

      AS for AboutUs.org.. they actually approached me to be a sysop.. and I’ve learned they ahve approached alot of people to be sysop’s and do all the patrlling and help build the site.. yet, onyl the few who started the site make anything off it, they expect the ‘volunteers’ to do most everything free. I was even asked to take time off my current projects that I do get paid for to fly to Oregon for some ‘recent changes convention’.. they even offered to pay the airfare after I told them 4 times I couldn’t go. (talk about persistance).

      In my opinion, AboutUs.org isn’t about jsut a new type of web 2.0 website, or the content on it (theyy jsut want to stay within the law so it dont cost them money).. it’s about the millions they got in funding. Like everything else, nothing is free, there is always money involved and the making of it implied somehow.

      bfore anyone says i’m going both ways on the issue.. re-read everything i psoted.. I’m not going to slam them for what they copy from websites as long as it’s within the fair usage that is allowed by law.. but I will express my concerns and idssappointments in what is wrong with any wiki site. How they went about starting is was very wrong.. they wait for you to find your site listed on there, then they do their advertising campaigns on you. On the other hand, unlike Wikipedia which is run by a bunch of hard nose ‘think they know it all’ rude and obnoxious morons, I have to give the people at AboutUs.org credit for at least responding to peoples concerns and complaints. Ray King himself has responded on blogs like this to try and explain what gos on there and what’s behind it, so we really can’t say they don’t lsiten to people irrate about it all. In that aspect, they do more than most webmasters do.

      When somethings wrong, I’ll say so, when it’s not so wrong, i’ll express that equally, not everything aboutus does is wrong, but wiki’s are a bad idea that need alot of rethinking, and thw ethods used thus far on alot of wikisites need to be thought out very well before put into action.

    15. I first learned about us org this weekend when I did a search of one of my sites, and am furious about this site. Many of you have expressed concerns about copyrights, etc. and I would like to add something different that concerns me greatly about this site and that is the deceit they create on site searchs. One of my sites has over 20 listings of my page titles listed with about us added to the end of the title, giving people the impression they will find out about us (my site title of page) ie: animals – about us with no indication it has nothing to do with the page but a link to their link farm for advertizement purposes unless they read the whole listing to find the aboutus address at the end of it, and I assume if I had never done a search of my site 1/2 of my pages would be to their advertizement pages with 1,000 other links on their page with no easy way to even find the link (which appears to lead nowere except to their picture listing of my site) and I had to go back to google to find it in highlight. The whole site is just one big deception. I have filled a complaint with IC3 a goverment agency to see what can be done about them before I have to spend any money on a lawyer. In the mean time I have purchased a registration complaintsaboutus.org for the sole purpose of being able to gather information about them for possible legal action and a way for other victims to post anything legal that can be used to after them as it appears they have the potential to duplicte evry site page on all websites in the world as they have done to mine, and hopefully there won’t be anymore pages listed on google search, and for some reason this link farm is only listed in my google searchs of my sites?? They have the potential hurt many people with their site.
      Thanks
      Trabob

    16. @ Trabob – you’re saying they’ve done “about” pages on more than one page from the same domain? Or am I not understanding? That sounds more like just plain stealing.

      @ Alan – sorry for not replying sooner. Well, I guess my feelings on the whole thing boil down to, yes, there is some copyright infringement – they did copy the header image from one of my friend’s site, then what I mentioned in my previous comment, and then the whole thing about how it’s done automatically without a webmaster’s permission. If this website is going to exist like this, it really needs to be an opt-in service.

      I just really think that aboutus.org is a pointless and unneeded website with no real value myself.

    17. Hi Val
      Thanks for responding. Yes I agree and ny complaint listed that also. I won’t go into details here but if you are upset about it I found a blog that is setup for other victims to post on. The Title is “Stop aboutus,org” Registered ame also as the one I regsitered but may not need after finding the above one. If you are interested the link to my search w/20 links back to him are in there and a copy of my complaint along with other posts from me and others. Hope you don’t consider the link spam, just thought you might enjoy it
      http://www.stopaboutus.org/discuss/viewforum.php?f=1&sid=1618e9f00efa77d8a36829255fbc8992
      Thanks
      Trabob

    18. @ Trabob – no, not spam – thank you very much! I’ll check it out here in a bit :)

    19. I blogged about this issue to, but used a lot more swear-words than you nice folks. I only recently discovered my domains listed on this site, and I’m furious. At first, it was just amusing, but then I found my personal info displayed for all to see. Even more infuriating, there’s no way to truly opt out. Your listing still remains.

      When I first found my sites listed, I opted out three of my domains and the info on them was removed, but not the listings. I didn’t opt out my fourth domain, because it wasn’t a live site yet. I didn’t think it would be listed, because there are no links to it anywhere on the net, and it isn’t listed on google. Its just sitting, doing nothing, waiting for me to get busy.

      Later I discovered it was listed on aboutus. I wrote an opt-out letter, I deleted the info, and put up the appropriate robots.txt, to keep it from being scraped again. Went back today, and all the information was back. Some ‘opt-out’ they’ve got there.

      I really resent the way this site forces webmasters to participate in their site. Since opting out doesn’t truly opt us out, our domains can still be edited by flamers, spammers, or with just plain erroneous info, which forces us to keep checking our listings.

      I just hate everything about this site. I run very small personal sites, and I do it for pleasure. I’m not a big business, nor do I desire to be. I can see where such a wiki MIGHT be useful to business websites. Might. But it isn’t useful to me and I have no desire to be listed on aboutus. Such a service should be opt-in, not opt-out (and it isn’t REALLY opt-out anyway).

      Anyway, this issue is new to me, and I just wanted to sound off. Hey, and I did it without swearing.

    20. Hey Che
      Just read another post of yours in another forum, seems like you are getting around as much as me. I posted a complaint with IC3 an internet reporting service to complain last month and still waiting to hear from them, if others would file complaints it might help as someone has to read them and take notice
      Thanks
      Trabob

    21. @ Che – I don’t even think aboutus.org would be useful to big businesses unless it was an opt-in thing. If you’ve a business but don’t know that you’re listed somewhere so you can control/update the content there, what good is it?

      imo, aboutus.org: just a bad idea all around!

    22. Oh, nice, so now aboutus.org has added me to a mailing list? Granted, it’s a forwarder I created only to get my sites removed from them, but still! You don’t automatically add people you’ve emailed in the past to your newsletter!!

    23. Hi guys and gals, there are some great points being made here. It’s clear to see that there are MANY who would like to see aboutus.org banned from google, so here’s my two cents…

      Despite all the truly laugable spin being pushed by the naive brainwashed cult members that are the employees of aboutus.org it is perfectly clear to see what the site IS and what the site was always intended to be:

      Essentially aboutus.org is there to automatically generate deceptive incoming google results using everyone else’s stolen content, domain names and keywords so as to MAKE MONEY from advertising. Nothing any more profound, clever or nobel than that.

      Aboutus.org is simply SPAMMING & PLAGIARISM on a more sophisticated and grand scale than anything seen before.

      The idea is of course desperately and very feebly riding on the back of the “wiki” concept so as to make it look like “progress”, however nothing could be further from the truth (unless of course we are talking about progress in the world of SPAMMING technology and content theft). Simply put, the basis for a WIKI is the human input of original content, NOT automated self population using everyone elses plagiarised content.

      I won’t get into the technicalities here because what they are doing is indeed very complex and extremely sophisticated with additional changes being made all the time in order to hijack yet more search results using everyone elses content.

      However, I will mention the “opt out” process because despite their claims, it’s not quite that painless:

      Be warned, if you choose the aboutus.org “no bots” root, or ask them to remove content in any way shape or form, you will then still have an empty page listed with your domain and a link (they will not remove this), you will also have your domain and link then FURTHER added to an EXTRA page deliberately listing opted out domains, further more you may also then very well even find your domain name listed on yet another page with the word “sponsor” in front of it promoting aboutus.org advertising services. (So to recap you opted out and now your domain name is listed on 3 pages instead of 1). Further more, if one of the aboutus.org editors decides to add you to their chat pages you will then be listed FOUR times following an opt out.

      So, to recap, opt-out and you will still be listed / linked, perhaps even MORE SO than before you did! You will of course then see the mutlitple spammy aboutus.org google results related to these extra pages, which is of course their clear intention.

      SPIN SPIN SPIN: Despite their very well devised and well placed spin all over the web, this CLEARLY aint no “Google” or “Youtube”, or indeed any kind of “innovation” what so ever despite their ridiculous rhetoric. This is just plain old fashioned SPAM SPAM SPAM founded in GREED GREED GREED.

      Of course the ONLY positive effects of aboutus.org are felt by the sites shameless owners, whilst the wholly NEGATIVE effects are clearly felt by everyone else:

      Aboutus.org is NEGATIVE to all WEB SURFERS (getting crappy deceptive spammy results pointing to aboutus.org rather than the sites they are actually looking for).

      Aboutus.org is NEGATIVE to WEBSITE AUTHORS (losing their ranking, having their results hijacked, having their original content, domain name, keywords STOLEN and abused for profit by criminals)

      Aboutus.org is NEGATIVE to search engines like GOOGLE (poisoning and destroying the critical quality of all search results on a humongous scale)

      Advertisers beware, if you advertise with aboutus.org then your brand will be judged accordingly.

      Complain to Google now “search for report spam to google” and get aboutus.org BANNED so they can crawl off and die in a dark corner of the internet along with all the other nasty evil spammers.

      Thanks

    24. Add me to the list of disgusted Web developers. I found out a while ago they had ripped copyright information and images from my site to put on their own. What really took the biscuit was the publishing of my private information. I gave permission to eNom to hold my personal details related to my domain names, but NOT AboutUs.org. To be sure these details should be protected I reread through eNom’s terms and conditions which state:
      “The compilation, repackaging, dissemination or other use of eNom’s Whois information in its entirety, or a substantial portion thereof, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of eNom”
      I contacted eNom and asked if these scammers had been given written permission to use MY details, and if not could they contact them and inform them of their illegal activity. Sadly, eNom basically said there was nothing they could do – even though I pointed out it was against their own T&C.
      In the UK you have to have permission to hold someones personal information under the Data Protection Act. What a shame there isn’t something similar in Washington, USA where AboutUs is hosted – or is there?

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