This bears mentioning, only because not mentioning it will leave me open to criticism. I have (and will continue to) rely on Skeptoid.com for quick refutations of common folklore and mis-directed mass hysteria. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the site too often on this blog, but I know my Facebook page and G+ are littered with references to the podcast.
I do that because Skeptoid is short; generally just over 10 minutes, or a few easy pages of reading. The site also includes references for those interested in diligence (more than I can say for most sites on the internet today) and the podcast features a regular corrections episode where the narrator eats crow in public (and I wish more podcasters were willing to do the same) which is good for the soul and keeps the podcaster honest with his listeners.
However, the narrator and de facto owner of Skeptoid Brian Dunning, has been convicted of wire fraud, and will be spending several months in prison and a few years on probation after that. As someone who has been fascinated with computers for as long as I have (My uncle made the first portable computer I ever heard of. It was built into a Suburban and was so large you had to sit outside the vehicle and access it through the side doors) the intrigues engaged in by hackers no longer surprise me.
[A]ccording to the superseding information, the wire fraud involved causing cookies to be installed on internet users’ computers without their knowledge. If, by chance, those users later visited eBay and bought something, then an entity owned by Brian (at least in part) would be treated by eBay as if the entity’s website had driven the customer to eBay by means of a direct referral. The entity owned (at least in part) by Brian would then get a commission from eBay, as if the entity’s website had actually been responsible for driving the user to eBay. In reality, the entity’s website would not have driven the customer to eBay, and thus eBay was defrauded. Thus, wire fraud.
The superseding information charged Brian with wire fraud, occurring between May 2006 and June 2007, and on April 15, 2013, Brian pled guilty to that charge.
It was a clever hack job, reading through it; and it netted him a rather large sum of money. However, contrary to the assertions of another skeptic (who’s opinion I generally respect and agree with) Brian did not defraud visitors to his websites, although his use of their computers to defraud eBay ranks right up there on my outrage meter with DDOS attacks and malware masquerading as legitimate software.
Brian stole from eBay, not his website visitors. It would be a cold day in hell before I would trust software offered by him (or his affiliates) because of this, but the vitriol seems a little excessive;
Again, just to be clear: Dunning is a rich, convicted fraud who may soon be facing up to 20 years in prison (though more likely much less for a first offense). The very same skeptics who happily point out to Mormons that they idolize a fraud in Joseph Smith, and who tell believers of Sylvia Browne that she was convicted of fraud, are giving their money to a convicted fraud who actually used them in his criminal acts
I get it, he defrauded eBay and now he’s going to jail. Ever heard of phone phreaks or any of the other long traditions of thumbing your nose at the man? eBay is just another cog in the machine from that perspective; a target to be milked if you can figure out how to trick them into giving you cash. It is not, repeat not, stealing from poor shills who are desperate for any answers (even fake ones) to the problems they are faced with.
Not that I want to soft pedal what Brian Dunning has done. I don’t, and I don’t expect anyone who engages in illegal activity for whatever reason to be treated any differently than any other lawbreaker. That doesn’t change the veracity of the work contained in Skeptoid, which represents the effort of hundreds of people now, and the contributions of thousands.
Credit where credit is due, as well as blame. Skeptoid represents Brian Dunning’s best work, just as the conviction for wire fraud (hopefully) represents his worst. It will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself after the dust settles and he can speak freely on the subject.