Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning's shell game

It’s been known for quite some time that Brian Dunning is dirty. From 2006 to 2007, he and his brother set up their joint venture Kessler’s Flying Circus as part of the eBay affiliates program wherein you get commission from every sale if someone purchased something after clicking on a banner ad on your site. Two of Dunning’s other websites, WhoLinked.com and ProfileMaps.info were configured to “stuff cookies” for eBay — that is, to create persistent cookies in your web browser such that if you visited one of those sites, the next time you visited eBay it would imagine that you’d clicked on one of those banner ads. Basically, by going to the site, without knowing it, you were treated as though you’d clicked on the Dunning brothers’ ad campaign even if you’d never even seen that ad. And the cookie would persist such that all your purchases looked as though they came from that ad campaign.

He’d figured out to do this by reverse-engineering Shawn Hogan’s tools — Shawn Hogan being the top-most eBay affiliate, who had himself defrauded eBay of $30+ million USD.

In 2008, eBay filed a lawsuit alleging that Dunning and Dunning had defrauded them of $5,300,000 USD. Though not as big a fraud as Hogan’s case, the Dunnings were the number two affiliate, and this was not chump change. eBay was definitely not getting the advertising bang for their buck. In 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. The FBI issued a press release in April 2013 showing that Brian Dunning had pled guilty. He faces 20 years jail time for his crimes.

Given that his general defense to the FBI was that eBay had been “stupid” in the way they set up the program, it’s fairly self-evident he was not repentant of his crimes and thought he could fight the suits in a sort of characteristically Libertarian “if you can do it, then it’s okay to do” defense. Now that he’s pled guilty, it’s fairly evident that he could not fight this case with that method of thinking.

Dunning’s legacy, his skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has long been known to be a cash cow as well — with its own advertisements, and a kitsch store with huge markups on t-shirts and mugs and the likes. However, now that Dunning has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, Skeptoid’s fate is in question.

In May of 2012, Dunning filed to convert the Skeptoid Media, Inc into a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, removing the ads from the podcast and site. This is mere months after he’d been forced to publicly admit that the lawsuits were ongoing.

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This is a screenshot of the filing for non-profit status from the Department of Justice website.

It’s an easy leap to believe that this was done to protect it from fallout from his fraud; it’s an easier leap to believe that all he has to do to protect the money he stole is to donate it all to Skeptoid as soon as the non-profit status comes through. I am under the impression that Dunning is presently setting up a board for this non-profit entity prior to the status actually changing. I don’t think it’s possible, at this point, to consider the brand anything but spent and destroyed — any efforts made by any members of our community toward rehabilitating its image and disassociating Skeptoid the brand from Brian Dunning the imprisoned felon are, in my mind, wasted and themselves tainted efforts.

I’m certain that the FBI will not allow this shell game to happen, especially not with the scrutiny that’s levelled at Brian Dunning presently. But on the off chance that it does happen, that Skeptoid is allowed to use funds from the eBay fraud, and that it doesn’t die on the vine thanks to the ongoing support I see from numerous big-name skeptics in our community, at least it won’t have happened because everyone stayed silent.

I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now. We have enough of an image problem with so-called “honest liars”; no need to prop up dishonest con-artists as part of a package deal.

Speak up. Repudiate any efforts to resurrect the Skeptoid brand. Dissociate yourselves from it if you have ties. Dunning is an unrepentant con-man and none of us need to go down with his ship.

I say that as someone who got into movement skepticism with Skeptoid being the first podcast I ever listened to.

Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning's shell game

Thoughts on a DOS attack

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See this lately? Wondering what’s up?

Well, this Saturday, some jackasses decided they didn’t like us — nor Skepchick, nor Feminist Frequency — and tried to take us off the internet.

And they woulda gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for us meddling techs.

Some gearheaded stuff followed by some analysis of why this might have happened. Skip to the bolded red note if you aren’t so interested.
Continue reading “Thoughts on a DOS attack”

Thoughts on a DOS attack

How to schedule On Air Events and set up Google Hangouts On Air

A few people have, believe it or not, asked for our procedure for setting up virtual conferences like FtBConscience 2. I figure it’s a good idea to go ahead and post the document that I’d passed around behind the scenes, so others can benefit from our, heh, “wisdom”. I’ve scrubbed out the FtB-specific stuff.

As of January 2014, the procedures for creating a live Google Hangout On Air have changed, in some ways quite drastically. Please read this thoroughly and attempt this at least once, all the way through, as a dry run before your con!

Remember, you will need all your facilitators to perform all of thee actions. This can’t be done in advance by a single person, because each panel will have to be run by the person who went through this procedure. It’s best to appoint at least 3 facilitators per concurrent “line” of panels that you’d like to run. You can sometimes do with less if you’re strict on end times, though.

Requirements:

A Google+ Account (obtain one here: https://plus.google.com/ )

A Youtube account (MUST BE LINKED TO G+ ACCOUNT, see below)

A telephone (land line for phone call verification or cell phone for text message verification)

(Optional) A 300x1200px banner for your event

To set up your Google+ Account linked to Youtube:

Google has a tutorial here: https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2553119?p=first_hoa&hl=en&authuser=0&rd=1

Continue reading “How to schedule On Air Events and set up Google Hangouts On Air”

How to schedule On Air Events and set up Google Hangouts On Air

Much ado about cyber-nothing

I’ve been drowned in the world of tech over this holiday season. It is, after all, my lifeblood, as well as my hobby — it’s how I pay the bills and help keep this family afloat. So time has been in short supply for anything but work, and I’ve been choosing (as I mentioned recently) to spend most of my free time either playing Starbound (an absolutely incredible space sandbox game that’s still in pre-release — I’m going to write up a review ASAP), or working on learning Java and creating a procedurally generated platform game that will probably never see market because I suck at art.

Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal "The Hamburgler"
Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal “The Hamburgler”

Being drowned in tech as I am, the things I’ve been reading are mostly technology-related as of late. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped being a skeptic or atheist — just that they haven’t been topics on my must-read list.

This particular piece in All Tech Considered made my skeptical and security-minded tech parts of my brain flip the hell out, and I figured I should share that feeling with you. The piece starts appropriately doomsday, extrapolating from the actual information at hand in a manner that makes me think the piece was written by a very experienced science journalist:

If your computer is infected with a virus or other forms of malware, disconnecting the machine from the Internet is one of the first steps security experts say you should take. But someday, even physically separating your laptop from a network may not be enough to protect it from cyber evildoers.

Continue reading “Much ado about cyber-nothing”

Much ado about cyber-nothing

Twitter: Fixed it for you

Dear Twitter,

I noticed you’re having a hard time balancing user issues with dealing with harassment and dealing with privacy. I further noticed you had a good idea for a change to a function that solves one class of issues, but that had side-effects that made another class of issues dramatically worse.

I think I have found a reasonable solution for your problem.

Do both.

Oh, and there are some more tweaks I can offer to help fix other outstanding problems, if you’ll listen.

Continue reading “Twitter: Fixed it for you”

Twitter: Fixed it for you

On not being completely free to curate

I just attended Skepticon 6, and had a number of excellent and thought-provoking conversations with some people I’ve admired, some people I’ve long since befriended, and some people I’d never met before but am glad to have met now. It was a great experience, a few issues aside which I’ll, naturally, have to talk more about soon.

On Wednesday night, immediately after work, Stephanie, Brianne and I piled into the car and undertook a ten-hour car ride south. We arrived at 5 am, and promptly hit our beds and crashed. The first night we were in Springfield, Missouri, folks were still filtering into town, and as we skeptics are wont to do, we sought one another out for the first of what promised to be many of those thought-provoking conversations. This conversation became the genesis for this post, which will hopefully serve as a follow-up to my recent post about curating your internet experience.
Continue reading “On not being completely free to curate”

On not being completely free to curate

You are free to choose how to use the internet

I’d like remind everyone that you are free to curate your internet experience however you please. When your internet experience starts to suck because people are trying to make your life miserable, you are free to deal with that as you see fit.

You are free to withdraw from a space. You are free to ban and block. You are free to call on friends for help. You are free to dig in and argue with every entitled douchebag who comes along trying to win a war of attrition in order to force you out of that space. You are free to be pseudonymous; you are free to use your real name. You are free to publicly disagree with them, even via a blog post if you so choose; or you can privately disagree with them amongst a small tight-knit circle of friends and allies. You can use any number of block-list services like Akismet, RBL, the A+ Block Bot, or even a whitelist-only setup like making your Twitter account Private. You can engage with everyone who thinks the internet is a debate club, or you can ignore those people, or you can block them.

And be damned anyone who says that this is “fascist”.
Continue reading “You are free to choose how to use the internet”

You are free to choose how to use the internet

The Ada Initiative recognizes the feminist fight in the skeptical and secular communities

Two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised on Twitter (a rarity, to be sure) when The Ada Initiative tweeted the following:

 

Until then, I had no idea The Ada Initiative knew this parallel fight was happening in the skeptical and secular movements, where I’ve only seen them talk about the problems in technology, the open source world and geek culture.
Continue reading “The Ada Initiative recognizes the feminist fight in the skeptical and secular communities”

The Ada Initiative recognizes the feminist fight in the skeptical and secular communities

Google offers travel grants for female computer developers

Google has done something decidedly not-evil (despite recent major missteps), and put together a travel grants program for several computer science conferences aimed at encouraging women entering fields under the T umbrella in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

As part of Google’s ongoing commitment to encourage women to excel in computing and technology, we are pleased to offer Women in Tech Conference and Travel Grants for female computer scientists.

To encourage attendance at technical conferences, we are offering the winners:

  • Free registration for the conference
  • Up to 1000 EUR towards travel and accommodation costs (to be paid after the conference)

To be eligible for a conference grant, the candidate must:

  • Be a female working in or studying Computer Science, Computer Engineering or a technical field related to the conference subject
  • Have a strong academic background with demonstrated leadership ability
  • Attend the core day(s) of the main conference

How To Apply

To apply, by the indicated deadline, please submit this form by the indicated deadline.
You may apply for multiple conferences.

Eligible Conferences 2013 (ongoing, more conferences will be added throughout the year)

Winners and claim process

All applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by email, approximately 3-4 weeks prior to the event. If you are selected, you will receive additional information on how to register for the conference and how to receive your travel grant.

For any questions, please reach out to [email protected].

This is how you fix the gender disparity between men and women in technology: you help women who might otherwise not be able to travel or who might think these conferences are not for them because of a lack of women representation in the field, get to the conferences to begin with. This puts those women in a position to be seen, so other women know that it’s not a gender-specific job. And they get a chance to talk with people inside the industry, too — which encourages them to recognize women programmers when they see them.

Lower the barriers that have developed naturally that keep women from being seen at such conferences and drives the lack of women interested in the field — when you don’t see anyone shaped like you in a field, you come to believe it’s not for you. It’s why Surly Amy was, until the JREF president made it clear by his actions that feminists were unwelcome at TAM, offering travel grants to women to attend — to improve gender ratios and give these women a chance to discover that the movement was indeed for them. (A shame how that all turned out, by the by.)

Google offers travel grants for female computer developers

Attempting to fix comment preview bug

Just so everyone’s aware, I just made a small change to the comment preview plugin to wrap the comment preview in the correct CSS div class. As I made this edit within the plugin itself, it’s not going to be future proof — if we update that plugin, my change will be reverted.

The correct solution is to edit our stylesheet to honor both div classes, or change the class we use for our comments, but either of those might have ripple effects, and I was in a rush this morning so I did the least intrusive change to potentially fix the problem. Worst that can happen here is the preview is still broken.

Can you folks kindly test and let me know if it’s better now? If so, I’ll see about making a more permanent change ASAP.

Attempting to fix comment preview bug