Freescore.com is one of those online companies that offers a free trial, and then attempts to enroll its customers in a $30/month subscription service. Now they’re suing Yahoo in an attempt to reveal an anonymous blogger who quoted a Reuters article when criticizing the service, and who pointed out that Freescore is owned by a company with a reputation for billing customers without permission.
You may have seen Ben Stein hawking Freescore.com on your TV in recent months. (It’s why he was fired from the New York Times in August, in fact, because of a perceived conflict of interest.) It’s no different from any other “free” credit report nonsense out there in that after a short trial period—7 days in this case—you have to pay for what you can get for free once a year from annualcreditreport.com. The company exists to lure in people who don’t mind paying unnecessary fees, as well as people who don’t read fine print, as well as those who do read fine print but forget to cancel within that 7 day window. Freescore.com is even more obnoxious in that it will charge you $1 to access your “free” initial results; the fine print says that if you choose to cancel within 7 days, “remember to ask for a refund of your $1 processing fee.”
For those reasons, Reuters blogger Felix Salmon called Stein a “predatory bait-and-switch merchant” in July, and someone called “Flâneur de fraude” added to the claim in a blog post, where he showed that Freescore is ultimately owned by Vertrue Inc., a company that has a BBB rating of “F”, mostly due to complaints that Vertrue’s various membership companies enrolled customers without their knowledge or permission.
Somehow, that spurred Freescore to retaliate with legal action. But what’s weird is although they’re making a lot of noise about defamation and trade libel, and they’ve filed a suit with Yahoo to get Flâneur’s real name revealed, they haven’t actually argued that anything Flâneur posted was false. They haven’t even gone after Felix Salmon, the original blogger at Reuters.
So is Freescore.com planning on suing Flâneur if they can find out her real name? If so, for what? As you can see from her blog post, the original content she added to the story was all about tracing ownership and pointing out the history of complaints against Freescore’s parent company.
The happy ending (at least so far) is that Flâneur has brought bigger guns to the fight:
At that point, Flâneur sprung into action, and got the Public Citizen Litigation Group involved. They have now filed a monster 43-page brief with the Connecticut court, and after reading it one has difficulty imagining that any judge will compel Yahoo to unmask Flâneur. Public Citizen’s press release is here, and the headline sums it up: the blogger who criticized freescore.com, it says, has the right to remain anonymous.
Adaptive has never complained to Flâneur, to me, or to anybody else, as far as I can tell, about any of our characterizations of their business. They never asked for any of our blog entries to be updated or edited, and they were conspicuous by their absence during the brouhaha over Ben Stein. If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so – not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.
Instead, knowing that Flâneur values her anonymity, they decided to try to unmask her in Connecticut court. I hope and trust that now, with the intervention of Public Citizen, they will fail miserably.
“Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters” [Reuters]
“Developments about Adaptive Marketing’s suit to identify critical blogger” [CL&P]
“Ben Stein steals your money” [flâneur de fraude]
“Ben Stein, predatory bait-and-switch merchant” [Reuters]