Dear Lumen Team, The Google Team and Internet Society,
Over the past years, Pissedconsumer.com initiated and actively took part in uncovering numerous fraudulent schemes used by so-called reputation management entities to remove data from Google and other search engines. We have been closely cooperating with UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh, with whom we have managed to unveil a bunch of “shenanigans” involving fake court orders.
At the beginning we started the ball rolling and, most recently, this idea was taken up and investigated by Texas AG`s Office. Hopefully, this pattern of events will continue developing in the right direction.
We are seeking to outline and draw attention to what might be improved as to quality of search and user interface in order to make Lumen data more useful and easier to locate. Since Lumen Database is the only and exclusive place to find displayed court orders submitted to Google, we would like to take a deeper look into its features and opportunities.
We need Lumen Team’s attention and help here
Pissedconsumer.com has thousands of webpages. Therefore, it is physically impossible to monitor Google positions for all of them. We noticed that some of our content was quietly removed from Google index, and we need this information to be more transparent.
How exactly did we get to know that certain URLs were deindexed by Google? There are only a few tools which online content owners can use. One of them is Lumen Database. We conducted a thorough research in it. As soon as you decide to try something new, you expect the system to work properly and to be user-friendly.
So, we started a slow and deep “dive” into thousands and thousands of attached documents, DMCA, Defamation, Court Order and other notices. Of course, we faced a number of issues that interpelled us not only from defending our online content, but also from protecting the consumers, who wanted their voices to be heard.
For a start, we wanted to locate all the notices that have ever been filed against Pissedconsumer.com. With DMCAs search, we had a helping hand in a form of Transparency Report. We usually perform the “DOMAIN” search, get the list of all DMCAs filed against Pissed Consumer and track them down all the way to Lumen Database. It is a piece of cake, comparing to the workload you need to go through if you want to find URLs reported about Pissed Consumer to Lumen Database.
There are instances that originally did not come up in the list for “DOMAIN” search. We encountered them when performing random searches in Google.
Our website database includes over 80k companies. Therefore, we are unable to perform manual search for each company name. Moreover, we might get banned by Google for exceeding the number of search requests, if we use an automated search.
In theory, we thought that there is nothing easier than simply choosing the Topic (see tabs on www.lumendatabase.org/notices/search) you want to filter for. In our case, we chose “Court Orders”. In the search console we typed our domain name (“pissedconsumer.com”) and, voila, we were redirected to the overall list of all the notices that have ever been filed with Lumen and Google.
Browsing the Lumen website for any additional information, the description of the Topics came up. Information about “Court Orders” was sparse, and the “Frequently Asked Questions” section was not even clickable, not to mention the fact that it was completely empty.
Pissed Consumer’s Own Experiment
To understand the logic and the reasons of how everything works a decision was made to post a test notice in the “Report a Demand” tab.
Despite complete absence of any kind of guidelines regarding the issue, the procedure itself turned out to be quite easy to follow. The Court Order Takedown Notice Form consists of several sections or so-called “Steps” that are: (i) 95% are not required fields; and (ii) do not have verification of any kind. To be precise, we skipped “Targeted URLs*” (mandatory), typed “Test” in all “Name*” (mandatory) fields. And it was sufficient, since our notice was created. People write whatever they want in the “Targeted URLs” field.
We even got a confirmation message on the screen. Also, the notice submitted by us appeared at the top of the list of recently submitted notices.
Without a doubt, it will be impossible to filter out such a notice. The whole Lumen Database filtering system is built upon the fields that are either not mandatory or do not have proper validation. Lumen was designed to help legal procedures, but, in fact, it confuses and misleads. As you get to the actual results, you cannot completely trust them and rely on them.
Lumen Team, Pissed Consumer and other sites like ours really need your help here. We are ready to cooperate, report any bugs we encounter and provide our feedback.
To be on the safe side, the only option we have now is to open each Lumen report one by one and inspect its content: confirm URLs (if provided), check comments (if left), and verify documents (if attached). Although there are more than 10 000 reports in Lumen Database, we have to continue our “fascinating” journey.
Recently, Pissedconsumer.com got swamped with different kinds of cyber-attacks. Lumen became a loophole that allows them. Companies indulge in somewhat illegal actions to suppress freedom of speech. It is important to highlight the main cornerstones that de facto led to deindexing from Google search, whereas de jure did not have any grounds for that.
Proper Notice and Proper Documentation
There are some proper notices that were submitted in a right manner. Nevertheless, the percentage of them is desperately low. They include readable complainant credentials, explanation of the Court Order (or any other legal document enclosed) and the list of targeted URLs that correspond to the list of the URLs in the attached file.
Since it is unclear who and how verifies legal documents in Lumen Database, not to forget previous fake court orders precedent, every time we get such a notice, we are laid under a necessity to obtain a copy of the court order mentioned in the notice by ourselves. Just to make sure…
We understand that Lumen is simply a platform for information submission. But stronger rules and automatic validation would help to reduce “legal spam”.
In depth analysis allowed us to allocate the most gruesome system violations. Are there any penalties for those? Why do Google, Lumen, Pissed Consumer and other teams like our brave legal team have to monitor and process lots of junk notices like these below? Let us discuss on them one by one with actual examples.
Shuffling the URLs in Lumen Reports
- Listed “Targeted URLs” in the notice do not include all the URLs stated in a court order.
In some notices complainants do not bother including all the URLs stated in a Court Order. Therefore, the notice itself loses its informative value, because it does not contain the exhaustive list of the infringing content to be removed from index. The user must make an extra step of opening the document and reading it through. It is a necessity, if you want to know whether someone is seeking to deindex your online content.
It would help a lot, if complainants were obliged to state the full list of all the URLs mentioned in an official legal document. Obviously, it will be easier for content owners to locate such webpages and comply with the judgement. None of the Lumen Database’s filters can help to locate orders like that at the moment.
- Listed “Targeted URLs” in the notice do not correspond to the URLs stated in the Court Order.And this is what was stated in the Court Order:
Obviously, these two URLs are different. But the question is: after “verification” that is supposed to be made before any removal from index takes place, which URL will be deindexed in the end of the day – the one stated in the notice, the one stated in the Court Order or both? Such notices, probably, should not be even considered.
These misleading notices complicate Google work and work with Google search a lot. Taking into account the number of the notices received every day, every extra movement made to check the inconsistencies might result in wrong decisions being made.
- The “Targeted URLs” are not listed in the notice.
Not only the documents can be missing, but also, vice versa, the notice may be actually missing URLs. In this case it turned out that the Court Order attached contained nine Pissedconsumer.com URLs that had to be removed. No one had a clue about it, until we opened the document and, further, doubting its legitimacy, obtained a copy from the County Court.
Attached Documents: Nature, Content, Type, Format
- “Targeted URLs” listed in the notice are not mentioned in the attached documents. The documents attached to the notice are not even Court Orders.
There was just a random page from a judgement attached to the notice. It does not state any URLs at all, while the complainant is seeking to remove three webpages.
Sometimes, the documents attached to the notice do not really represent any legitimate grounds for content deindexing, if make sense at all.
At the same time, you can locate a bunch of webpage addresses mentioned in the body of the notice. Meanwhile, it is still unclear if Google accepts without reasonable doubts such documents and acts accordingly.
- The document is not included in the body of the notice.Submitting the notice using Court Order Topic, without attaching an appropriate document at all, seems to contradict common sense. But it happens. These useless junk notices simply take additional time to open when searching for reports about your content. No actions should be taken in such cases, but it is time consuming to check every URL in every notice.
- Broken encoding in the document attached to the notice. The format of the document itself.
In some reports, it was noticed that the documents attached are in Word format. It is hard to imagine a legal document in Word format to be considered legitimate and accepted. However, currently Lumen Database accepts this type of documents as there are no format restrictions imposed for court orders or any other legal documents.
Even bigger surprise might be found inside the document. In a worst case scenario broken encoding might be found there. One can only guess the causes why it happens. It might be any language other than English, document might has been converted in the wrong way or it looked like that when it was submitted. The outcome is foreseeable - such reports should not be taken into consideration.
- Documents attached to the notice unavailable for download; non-compliance with timeframes of the request.Documents attached to the notices are not always available for viewing and/or downloading. Sometimes they need to be requested first. The system gives itself seven days to process the request. So far, we encountered a bunch of such notices, and sometimes we had to wait for two weeks and longer. We reported the issues to Lumen Database Customer Support.
In some cases, nobody responded or came back in any other way. However, the documents in question became available in five days period maximum. Nonetheless, recently we have got a reply from their managers. After we provided them with the dates when the documents were requested, they reported the issue with queuing: “…the requests aren't showing in the queue, which is why we ask. We'll try to make them available as soon as possible.”
- New notices appear in the overall list post factum. Due to all the imperfections described above and to be discussed further, we have to check each report. In the list of notices they turn purple color and those that have not been opened stay blue. We went page by page and accidentally opened the page where all the notices were opened and checked. However, the new ones appeared among read reports.
All of them were backdated.Therefore, even going through the list is not a heal-all solution. It can be assumed that some reports might be submitted to Lumen through mail (at least each notice has a “Sent Via” field that contains information about how the notice was submitted).
There is no possibility to filter by this field. It would be very helpful to have an option of doing it, so users can see such reports separately and will not have to check the pages that they have already previously looked through.
Database Update Leads to Broken Redirects
Broken redirects for the documents attached to the notices: https://www.lumendatabase.org/notices/4271861/request_pdf
Requesting the document might not be working, since the site was “recently updated” and, most likely, the document was lost somewhere in the database. There are two things that are unclear: the first one is how can we get to know what the URLs in question were, and second, were any actions taken by Google as to the disappeared documents? Moreover, there is no way to be notified when (if found) the document is uploaded back to the report.
Partial or Full “Camouflage” of the URLs in Question
During our monitoring we have encountered numerous Lumen notices that contained the word “[REDACTED]”. Some of the URLs were fully redacted, e.g. https://[REDACTED].
Other URLs were only partially redacted, e.g. https://[REDACTED].pissedconsumer.com.
Some URLs contained two redactedwords, e.g. https://[REDACTED]-[REDACTED].pissedconsumer.com
There is no explanation regarding this matter on Lumen Database website. So, we emailed The Google Team and asked for assistance with clarification of this issue. We provided the list of Lumen notices and asked if any of fully redacted URLs were Pissed Consumer’s. If there were any, then we wanted to have and exercise our right to respond with a counter notice and stand for the customers who left those reviews on our website.
We asked about the policies as to who “REDACTS” the URLs (complainants or Google itself). It is important to understand the reasons and the grounds of those actions.
Also, we asked to make partially redacted URLs visible to us, so that we could review and evaluate the allegations against us and respond to them accordingly.
Luckily, we received a response. The Google Team explained that they “REDACTED” the URLs because they “…contained PII in the URL…” (where PII is Personally Identifiable Information), i.e. Google’s “…policy as well as Lumen’s [is] to redact personal/confidential information such as phone numbers, personal names and emails…”.
In this particular case company name that included full persons’ names was redacted. Also, The Google Team mentioned that three notices mentioned in our email “…did not involve a court order. Following our standard practice, no removal action was taken in any of these case…”. Unfortunately, they ignored our plea as to making the “REDACTED” part visible. Which seems completely illogical, because if there were no actions taken, then these URLs are still in index and visible to public. If this information is public, why not disclose the full URL to us?
Lumen promises “…to facilitate research about the different kinds of complaints and requests for removal…”, but it is difficult to accomplish these promises with the search console they have now. Otherwise, everyone who uses the system has to look through more than 7m types of reports.
Currently, we requested more information regarding the Lumen API to try and check how it works. But chances are that it is built upon and uses the same incomplete and broken data.
The system declares that complaints and requests “…are being sent to Internet publishers and service providers…”. However, for the companies like Pissed Consumer that get bombarded with legal actions on a regular basis, it is vital. We are sure that we are not the only ones.
Therefore, there has to be a better option and a better way of tracking such reports in both Google and Lumen databases. Thus, if there are any actions taken regarding Pissed Consumer URLs, we would like to know about it, so that we could take corresponding actions on our site.
There is no intention to mock or pick on Lumen. We strive to help to improve transparency and enhance effectiveness of cooperation between the service providers, Internet publishers and Lumen Database.
We are willing and ready to help as much as we can. We are looking for transparency and ease of use from Lumen.
Pissed Consumer Legal Team