Column: The Digital Ambulance Chasers

Markets typically follow a well-understood path of chaos, organisation, regulation and reregulation. The internet is no different and has gone from early days of loose leaf HTML cobbled together webpage and link portals through Google, on to anti-spam legislation and now into the re-regulation phase where old offline laws are brought up to date for the online world.

This is a broad parallel being drawn, but sufficiently highlights a few of the “Digital Ambulance Chasers” we now find online. Digital Ambulance Chaser definition: A person or entity who pursues opportunist earnings as a result of a mistake, oversight or failing by a third party online. Here are some examples of potential candidates:

DMCA Scammers
There is money to be made from swindling rights holders out of royalty payments from YouTube.

A favourite among DMCA trolls is to claim copyright of in-game replays, how-to videos or by claiming the rights to cover music or original but unclaimed songs.

The claimant can exploit users who have uploaded content but who don’t respond to YouTube emails telling them someone is claiming their material. After a while, the claimant can gain ownership, then reap residual revenue from views of the newly scalped video. Multiple the ruses by thousands and you have a decent earning (somewhere in the world).

Google say they may ask how you own commercial use rights to all elements in your video. “This includes (but is not limited to) music, photographs, film and video game footage plus more. “ Then again, they might not!

Domain Tasters
There are a few types of moves involved with “domain tasting” (Front running and Reverse domain tasting), however a common one being the method of temporarily registering a domain under the five-day Add Grace Period. The registrant can then gain a refund from domain name registry once the domain is cancelled.

Tasters snap up millions of domains to see how they perform as marketing vessels. The ones which work they keep, the rest are deleted and the cash refunded.

Domain Tasters use this method to purchase dropped domains, working on the basis that people forget to renew a domain. The Domain Tasters can a) try to sell the domain back to the previous owner b) determine if a domain is worth keeping based on the traffic it receives c) park it and capitalise on ad revenue.

The problem is so great that ICANN would like to see the five-day Add Grace Period challenged.

Getty Images
Not strictly Digital Ambulance Chasing, but worthy of inclusion.

What Getty Images is known to do is pry on the stupidity of those who steal photos from their image library. Let’s face it Getty doesn’t go to any lengths to protect their images, and some might say they ‘want’ websites to steal their images – spurious, but plausible given the sophisticated approach to enforcement.

What they are known for is sending cease & desist letters which include a licence agreement and bill for settlement of non-agreed usage of an image.

How they find their images on a website is via digital watermarks, then they snail mail the bill and C&D to the registered owner of the domain.

A bit like parking tickets, the owner of the website may only know they are falling foul of the rules when the bill arrives. Getty on the other hand has a huge processing operation, a new revenue stream from the inability of website owners to crop a watermark from a photo. If you are going to steal. Be smart. Or pay up dummy.

Online Rep Management – or Brandjacking Repair
The internet is a giant copy machine as everything transfers from server to server replicated across sites, search engines and the Wayback Machine.

ORM is the service that preys on those with a past to clean up. It’s like reverse PR.

There are even companies offering ORM with privacy thrown into the offering. They have come up with products which promise to protect and defend your identity and reputation online. The likes of and are just two such companies.

The services generally attempt to obfuscate negative with positive entries in Google, or some may even negatively search engine optimise (the process of manipluting Google results) unfavourable articles or reviews to the top of Google search results for specific terms, and at worst for a company brand or person’s name.

Imagine you are a banker. There is a story claiming you have done something awful. Some companies will offer to link-bomb the article with nefarious terms lowering the TrustRank of that page in the hope that Google will devalue and lower the rank of the page. In turn, if the page carrying a critical report gets lowered in the search result, it increases the online reputation of the person affected.

Essentially ORM is the management of new content about people or firms, while diluting the negative which is already out there. Again, the practice is Digital Ambulance Chasing on the back of misfortune of personal injury.

For the ultimate case in ORM battles, read up on Max Mosley, the former president of the International Automobile Federation who is entrenched in a lengthy battle with Google over search results for his name which are true, but proven private by a court in London.

Negative SEO Clean Up Services
In this instance a company offers to turn your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) from black to white hat and remove any blemishes in the backlink profile of a site. They may claim that the company has suffered a negative SEO link bomb campaign, deployed balefully by a competitor (which is not unheard of).

The negative SEO clean up service is not hugely different to Online Reputation Management (ORM) as both pry on the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) associated with Google, Search Engines and dark arts of the web.

Reverse Domain Hijacking
This is where someone makes a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) claim on a domain they see as theirs.

It involves going after a domain which may have some relevance to someone’s name or company. The Digital Ambulance Chasing part is when it is done for financial gain or nefarious reason. Reverse Domain Hijack usually only happens after a domain is popular.

For instance Wal-Mart are attempting to take over a domain featuring their name. is union parody site in riposte to Wal-Mart stepped up its RDH once the site became popular.

It is a risky business as Ron Paul discovered when a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ruled against his claim for because that he filed a case claiming the domain after he was offered the .org free of charge by the incumbent owner of the .com. He ended up with neither domain.

There’s no end to capitalising on your bad luck. Norton Anti-Virus – the good guys say ”[We] use your data to provide you with protection and innovation.”

And without a hint of irony, one paragraph later deliver the knock out: ”We only share your personal information… with trusted third parties”.

Ask yourself, could one of those be the NSA and suddenly even the Russian fake anti-virus groups, where they are known as ‘partnerka’ don’t seem so bad after all!

Internet Ambulance Chasing is slowly being baked into less obvious services – again shilling as the good guys.

Take black boxes in cars for insurance companies to track car usage (allegedly). Or the Internet of Things, wearable tech to the ridicoulous HAPIFork.

The HAPIFork promises to tell you how many mouthfuls and how quickly and at which interval you eat to control your weight or could it also set your insurance premium, travel insurance terms, mortgage terms and those of your partner too. Now there’s a thought.

Rhoda Crocket
Rhoda Crocket is Netopia’s undercover hacking and spamming expert. The name is fake (like with any spammer), but Netopia knows her real identity.