Antisocial Networking

Update: New developments below.

I just got the strangest email. I think I’m going to reproduce it here in full.

Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2007 16:32:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Julie Winfield <beverlybimbo at yahoo dot com>
Subject: Hi Justin

You don’t know me, but I live by you and I would like to warn you that I am adding you to this site as a bad neighbor. I am tired of putting up with your crap.

http://www.rottenneighbor.com

Are you ok with that? No? Well then too bad!!

-Julie

Wow. I. Have. No. Words.

Here’s the funny part: it doesn’t appear that “Rotten Neighbor” currently even covers San Francisco. I entered my zip code and there were 3 listings, none me. A quick Google search for Julie Winfield returns a dermatologist in Mill Valley.

On the other hand, a quick Google search for the first part of her email address, beverlybimbo, confirms that she lives in Los Angeles (based on a Craigslist posting “Looking for a Google Maps API expert”).

Looking for a Google Maps API expert
Reply to: beverlybimbo at yahoo dot com
Date: 2007-08-09, 10:55AM PDT

Looking for a Google Maps API expert to design a functioning map that allows users to contribute markers to the map by searching address, city, state, zip code etc… It needs to be completely automated. The markers/popups will include title, description, and name. I also need the ability to serve the user ads that will most likely be geographically targeted. PHP, MySQL and Javascript will also be required so you need to be skilled in these languages as well.

* Location: Los Angeles

That’s a curious coincidence, considering Rotten Neighbor is essentially a Google Maps app.

Based on the time I got the email (4:32pm) I wonder if the LA listing created at 4:28 is the one intended for my doppelganger:

Vanowen St. between Mason and Desoto. What a horrible place. Many gang members or wannabees The north side of Vanowen is lined with apartment buildings. There is absolutely no parking. Somebody was shot and killed on Kelvin Ave. Cars are stolen. Car windows are broken just for the fun of it. Helicopters hover around at least once a week. It’s filled with people who don’t care about the cleanlines of their surroundings. People walk their dogs and don’t pick after them. Horrible place.

Looking over my referrer log from 4pm today (or for hits to my about page—the most obvious place someone would get my email address) didn’t turn up any smoking guns. I’ll be curious to see how/if she responds to my reply.

Update: This afternoon, I got a snarky reply from “Julie”:

Don’t worry Justin. Soon everybody will know what kind of neighbor you actually are!

What? The? Fuck?

So at this point I started think that she’s working for Rotten Neighbor, in an attempt to bait bloggers into linking to their site (as terrie mentions in the comments). Great it worked. So I’ve removed the hyperlink to Rotten Neighbor above (which I’d already relnofollowed), and I’ve removed any attempt to obfuscate Julie Winfield’s email address. But wait, it gets better…

So whois rottenneighbor.com?

Brant Walker brantw2 at cox dot net [Email address not functional]
San Diego, California 92101
United States

And who is this Brant Walker? Apparently a recent graduate of Platt College in San Diego. A quick scan of his web portfolio turns up a parody site called Nicotine Island. Hmm, where have I seen Nicotine Island before? Oh yeah, a post by one beverlybimbo in a Yahoo Groups for Smoking and Tobacco Hobbies.

I think I can reconstruct what happened here. Brant Walker, using the fake identity Julie Winfield, is trying to drive traffic to his Rotten Neighbors site. He checks out the Alexa Movers & Shakers list and discovers my site listed number 4 because I got dugg last week.

Alexa mover and shaker #4

He follows Alexa’s link to my homepage and clicks to my about page, grabs my email address, and sends me the email at the top. How am I doing so far? Let’s take a look back at my referrer log entries from just before 4:30pm yesterday (when I got the email), the ones that I previously thought held no clues.

*************************** 1. row ***************************
        request_id: 2051980
       request_url: http://justinsomnia.org/
  request_referrer: http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/movers_shakers?lang=en
      request_date: 2007-08-30 16:24:52
request_user_agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.6) Gecko/20070725 Firefox/2.0.0.6
        request_ip: 209.68.243.61
  request_hostname: 209.68.243.61.ptr.us.xo.net
*************************** 2. row ***************************
        request_id: 2051989
       request_url: http://justinsomnia.org/about/
  request_referrer: http://justinsomnia.org/
      request_date: 2007-08-30 16:27:54
request_user_agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.6) Gecko/20070725 Firefox/2.0.0.6
        request_ip: 209.68.243.61
  request_hostname: 209.68.243.61.ptr.us.xo.net

Of course that could just be anybody who happened upon the Alexa list and clicked over to my site, right? Well Brant, meet my smoking gun. In the headers of the email you sent me, pretending to be Julie, it listed your IP address:

Received: from [209.68.243.61] by web38510.mail.mud.yahoo.com via HTTP; Thu, 30 Aug 2007 16:32:05 PDT

How’d I do? Didn’t you even bother to skim Search Engine Marketeers are the new script kiddies? Because I know you visited the page last Friday, August 24th at 8pm. Perhaps I should retitle this post Search Engine Marketeers are the new social engineers.

Update: Brant apologies in the comments.

11 Comments

That is so strange! Do you have any idea what she is talking about? What a creepy (insane) person.

Do you think this might just be troll spam to bring attention to their site and get one involved in checkign it out?

terrie, yup, you were right. After getting another email from “Julie” today, I connected the IP address from the email header to an IP in my referrer log and deduced that “Julie Winfield” is Brant Walker, the web developer behind Rotten Neighbors.

So now I see how you stumbled upon my site :) julie+rottenneighbor I imagine was your search string. LOL! Very interesting post.

Heh Jules, not even that clever, just went around looking for people who’d written positively about “Rotten Neighbors”—which aside from being created by people without ethics, is honestly pretty mean-spirited to begin within. Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

Justin, I apologize. No hard feelings? I didn’t mean those things that I said, and you probably are a good neighbor.

I accept your apology. Thank you.

Cliff Stoll rocks…saw him speak years ago on a book tour. Wish we could get him involved with MAKE.

Anyhow. I hate the premise of rottenneighbor; it’s entirely negative. But the irony is that the site depends upon trust to succeed. Sending out emails filled with lies and veiled threats and then claiming it was just “viral marketing” doesn’t seem like a very good starting point for that!

I’d say “scammers” is pretty accurate.

terrie, I totally agree—which is doubly why I took the time to see this through. It also strikes me as kind of dangerous. No way to verify the submissions, no ones going to bother updating their submissions (e.g. “actually my neighbor seems to have stopped rehearsing with his band late at night”), and no attempt to anonymize or aggregate the submissions.

M

Hey Justin,

Nice work investigating this. However, the fact that Brent didn’t use any form of private domain name registration greatly played in your favor. Most of the people I have tried to investigate that way have paid the extra $4.00 bucks to keep their true identity a bit more elusive.

Best,
M

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