Qurium is an organization that provides secure web hosting services to human rights organizations and independent media outlets, and in early 2021, it received a mail which supposedly came from the legal department of the European Commission.
In the email, the “representative” of the commission, “Raúl Soto”, demanded that Qurium take action on some articles published in Elephanta Kenyan outlet to which the organization provides web hosting services.
These articles included an investigation into an alleged corruption situation, but Soto did not mention that in the emails. In reality, he wanted to take action because the article allegedly violated the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the collection and storage of personal data in Europe.
After becoming suspicious of the situation, Qurium carried out a brief investigation, and this revealed that the address where the mail came from did not really correspond to the European Commission, but to a rented office in Brussels.
On the other hand, in a public database, it was discovered that complaints were also reaching Internet search engines, around the same time that Qurium received the confusing email. The matter was similar: they pointed out that the article of Elephant It was plagiarized and they asked that it be removed and deindexed, so it would not appear in the first pages of search engine results.
Qurium traced the domain used in the mail it received, and in this way it reached a reputation management company called Eliminalia, based in Barcelona and Kiev. This was registered in 2013 by a Spanish businessman named Diego “Dídac” Sánchez.
As its name suggests, the company specializes in removing information from the Internet, guaranteeing the disappearance on request of any link or link to websites where the client’s name appears. But the case of Eliminalia and the cleaning of information may be one of thousands.
The place rest of world was able to access documents that reveal data on how the reputation management industry works, that is, how these companies use false copyright claims and legal notices to take certain articles off the internet, specifically, those that link their clients with accusations of corruption, tax evasion and drug trafficking.
The documents obtained seem to originate from Eliminalia, due to the contact information, references to its internal policies and a series of related data and files. In addition, rest of world spoke with several organizations and individuals who ran the websites mentioned in the documents, who confirmed that they had been approached with complaints from Eliminalia employees or people linked to the company.
Qurium’s investigation indicates how Eliminalia attempts to substantiate its claims under the Digital Age Copyright Act (DMCA). To support claims of plagiarism against Elephant, Qurium discovered that the article in question was copied and pasted onto several different websites, all with domains that made them look like African media outlets. And then duplicate articles were given publication dates earlier than the original.
John Githongo, an anti-corruption activist and publisher of Elephanthe said “they are basically extortionists who intend to use US and European laws to stop you from publishing.”
The websites were hosted on the servers of a company called World Intelligence Limited, based in Manchester, UK. Companies House, the British company registry, names Diego Sánchez as the sole owner of World Intelligence Limited.
The documents also revealed a list of Eliminalia’s clients, although it is not known if they are all included in it. Either way, it contains names of people and companies from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Among the thousands of names that appear as clients is “Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado”, an apparent reference to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic, who appears in articles regarding his political fundraising practices.
There is also “José Antonio Gordo Valero”, who was involved in an illicit pyramid scheme and the collapse of the OneCoin cryptocurrency in Argentina, as well as people from all over the world accused of corruption, who, apparently, sought to erase compromising information from the internet. .
Likewise, some of the people in the documents reportedly wanted explicit videos from pornographic websites removed, though most of the list are politicians and businessmen who wanted to take down articles investigating them. There are 17,000 URLs that were apparently targeted by Eliminalia clients between 2015 and 2019.
A 2021 Eliminalia contracting agreement, document reviewed by rest of world, shows that the company charged 2,500 euros ($2,800) for the removal or de-indexing of each link. On the other hand, in a 2016 interview, Sánchez said that his company charges some high-profile clients and businesses a premium fee of around $20,000–$30,000.
Several of the clients named in the documents appear to have used the service in an attempt to reduce reputational damage from the publication of the Panama Papers, which exposed the widespread use of offshore financial centers by politicians and public figures around the world. the world.
The move only shows that companies like Eliminalia are a mechanism for the most millionaire and powerful people on the planet to control the information found on the internet at will.