Selling Forum Users: What the VerticalScope TOS Allows

So I was talking to a co-worker about this current KBoards.com debacle and he quipped, “they probably want to sell your posts to other forums.” My first instinct was that really wasn’t my concern, and I started explaining to him my concerns regarding the use of my name and such.

“Julie, stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a black hatter.”

He then told me about an incident on a graphic designer forum he used to frequent. The site was sold (he didn’t remember to who and I’m not saying it was VerticalScope), but with the exception of more ads nothing really changed. It wasn’t until one day he was Googling a topic that had been discussed on the forum that he came across a post of his on a different forum. At first, he thought maybe someone had quoted him and that the topic was being discussed on this other forum, but when he read the link he found several posts that were verbatim from topics on the graphic designer forum. Apparently, a bot had lifted the comments from the forum he frequented and other forums and reposted them on a new forum under a new username.

See, apparently you can buy forum posters, just like you can buy Twitter or Facebook followers. There are bots that are specifically programmed to search for certain topics or keywords and then create accounts on sites to give the impression of activity. We’re all familiar with spambots on forums, but these bots are meant to mimic normal forum user behavior to give the impression of forum activity.

“You can create an entire site of bots talking to each other, and then sell advertising based on the user activity,” he said.

I’m NOT implying this is VerticalScope’s end game. But then I started digging around. I won’t post the links to some of the conversations I found (but those of you familiar with sites like Warrior Forum and other gray hat/black hat sites can probably find the same thing I did). Sure enough, there are companies that sell bots that will find relevant content for you and post to your blog or forum to create the impression of activity. Some of these bots are even promoted as “real” users to give the impression of actual individuals, complete with signatures and user avatars.

Again, I am NOT saying VerticalScope does this. I am, however, pointing out that, based on the wording of their TOS, they could LEGALLY do this. If that is not their intention, then there is no reason for them not to change the TOS.

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