All mention of the Trafficpaymaster software which led to the investigation has been removed from the internet, whilst Shapps’ two alter-egos, Michael Green and Sebastian Fox, have deleted all posts advertising the product on the Warrior Internet Forums.
According to The Guardian any allegation of criminal behaviour has been strongly denied with a spokesperson for Shapps saying: “Any suggestion of illegality would be completely improper and malicious and would be treated as such.”
Shapps’ company sold software with the express intention of it being used to breach google’s terms and conditions to generate income from google ads. The software did this by ‘scraping’ (stealing) content from other people’s websites, spinning it – which means changing a few words round so it looks original – and then using that content to auto-generate websites. Google’s Adsense package could then be added to the websites to make money from advertising.
This would mean that small businesses buying advertising through the Google Adsense network – who believed those ads would appear on genuine websites – would be fleeced of their cash. This could be what the police were referring to when they said an act of fraud may have been committed. The screenshot below shows that the company explicitly advertised their software as a way to ‘build an Adsense empire’.
Questions have also been raised about Shapps’ use of pseudonyms and the accuracy of testimonials on his website. After all, if people were recommending this product, and those people didn’t actually exist, then that would be false advertising. Shapps has said his use of the name Michael Green was ‘a joke’. He has not commented on his other alter ego Sebastian Fox. Yet here they both are, plugging his dodgy product, in what seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead potential customers by having them appear as two different people.
In what could be seen as a further attempt to deceive potential buyers, Shapps’ company strongly denied that using this software would lead to websites being blacklisted from the google network – a devastating and quite often fatal consequence for a small online business.
Shapps claimed in the Sunday Times that he created Michael Green as a ‘brand name, a bit like Colonel Sanders with his chicken.’ It is unlikely however that KFC’s website is registered under the name Colonel Sanders, unlike Shapps’ company who used the name Michael Green to register trafficpaymaster.com, in direct contravention of US internet rules.
Whilst this in itself is not a crime, it can be an aggravating factor if a website registered under a false name is used for criminal activity, such as copyright violation. Whether spinning content in the UK would be classed as copyright violation is so far untested by the courts. In the US, where Shapps’ website was registered, this would be considered a violation of copyright which could lead to serious criminal charges. And were Shapps ever found guilty of this then he could have seven years added to his sentence for registering the site under a false name.
Shapps has done everything he can to hide all traces of his former online activities which also included flogging get rich quick schemes of dubious legality. Unfortunately for him a number of posts made by Sebastian Fox are still available on the Internet Archive and provide more details of exactly what Shapps’ company was up to and how they set out to breach copyright and scam the Google Adsense network. Read though them and see for yourself whether allegations of fraud are ‘political smears’ as Shapps recently claimed to Channel 4.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid