Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters

By Felix Salmon
September 18, 2009
predatory bait-and-switch merchants. They're also litigious bullies.

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Ben Stein’s paymasters Adaptive Marketing, the owners of freescore.com, aren’t just predatory bait-and-switch merchants. They’re also litigious bullies.

An anonymous blogger, going by the name “flâneur de fraude”, added a lot of corporate information to my Ben Stein post, mostly about Adaptive Marketing’s owner, Vertrue Inc. It was interesting stuff, and I linked to it, and that seemed to be the end of that. Certainly no one at Adaptive or Vertrue ever tried to get in touch with me or with Flâneur.

Then, out of the blue, Adaptive filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, of all places, saying that the allegation that they were running a predatory bait-and-switch campaign was actionable on the the grounds of “defamation, trade libel, and tortious interference with contractual relations and business expectancies”. I’ve uploaded a copy of the suit here. There’s lots of stuff around it, but the complaint itself is only three pages long, and doesn’t even allege that anything Flâneur wrote was false.

The really weird thing about the lawsuit, however, was the defendant: not Reuters, not Flâneur, but Yahoo. The suit wasn’t a libel suit at all, you see: it was just a way of trying to get Flâneur’s real name out of Yahoo. (She uses an email address at yahoo.com.)

When Yahoo didn’t turn up to the court hearing 2,576 miles away from its headquarters, the Connecticut Superior Court found in favor of Adaptive, and said that Yahoo would have to turn up in court on September 21, presumptively to reveal Flâneur’s identity.

At that point, Flâneur sprung into action, and got the Public Citizen Litigation Group involved. They have now filed a monster 43-page brief with the Connecticut court, and after reading it one has difficulty imagining that any judge will compel Yahoo to unmask Flâneur. Public Citizen’s press release is here, and the headline sums it up: the blogger who criticized freescore.com, it says, has the right to remain anonymous.

Adaptive has never complained to Flâneur, to me, or to anybody else, as far as I can tell, about any of our characterizations of their business. They never asked for any of our blog entries to be updated or edited, and they were conspicuous by their absence during the brouhaha over Ben Stein. If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so — not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.

Instead, knowing that Flâneur values her anonymity, they decided to try to unmask her in Connecticut court. I hope and trust that now, with the intervention of Public Citizen, they will fail miserably.

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