The report’s findings echo those of a 2019 BuzzFeed News investigation, which dug millions of bogus public comments submitted – supposedly on behalf of individual citizens – to the Federal Communications Commission in 2017 to oppose the “net neutrality” policy.
The attorney general found that the industry campaign “resulted in more than 8.5 million false comments,” representing nearly 40% of the total the FCC received on the record registry. Despite concerns about the process, the federal agency repealed the Net Neutrality rules that the Obama administration had advocated.
The new report describes the efforts funded by industry group Broadband for America to generate bogus popular support, a practice known as’ astroturfing ‘, which’ relied on for-profit ‘lead generation’ companies. companies that collect names, contact information, etc. consumers’ personal information and sell this information to third parties. He continues, “In each case, the lead generation companies tasked with getting individuals to tune in to these comments have simply resorted to fraud to achieve their goals.”
The debate over how the federal government should regulate internet providers has attracted surprising attention, with both sides claiming it will shape the web for decades to come. But it also showed how easily very powerful corporate interests could corrupt a democratic process. The comments that the broadband industry paid to generate, in hopes of influencing the FCC’s decision, ended up being one of the most prolific identity theft cases in political history. American. Today’s statement from the attorney general is the most explicit yet in detailing how this process has unfolded and warning of how easily it could happen again.
In one case, Broadband for America hired a political consulting firm, which hired another company, which hired “a small California-based digital advertising company” which “claimed it could place ads for the campaign. comments on websites on the Internet, then collect names, contact details and consent to submit a comment to the FCC on their behalf. The report does not name the advertising company, but in previous reports BuzzFeed News identified it as LCX Digital.
The advertising company claimed that its ads convinced more than 1.5 million people to submit comments to the FCC on their behalf, according to the report.
“In fact, none of these people had done it,” investigators determined, in findings that mirror those published by BuzzFeed News. “The advertising company had simply copied the names and contact details of around 1.4 million people from records that were stolen in a data breach and dumped online in 2016. For most of the comments remaining – around 100,000 – the advertising company brazenly copied the information. had provided “to one of the intermediary companies” just a year earlier for comment in another FCC regulatory proceeding. “
The report states that “the red flags have been ignored” by the industry campaign organizers, but that the state “has not found any evidence” indicating “that the broadband companies that funded and organized these main producers had direct knowledge of the fraud ”.
Neither LCX nor Broadband for America responded to requests for comment.
New York investigators determined that the advertising company had worked on at least three other advocacy campaigns in which it “fabricated all or nearly all of the consent records.”
The attorney general said he had reached settlement agreements with three other companies which, between them, were responsible for some 5.4 million comments, “all or nearly all of which were fraudulent.” The regulations “force companies to adopt comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns and to pay more than $ 4.4 million in penalties and restitution.”
The attorney general said his investigations were ongoing, but did not name specific targets.