Vocus defends practices after fake Google deal release

NEW YORK: PRWeb owner Vocus said Tuesday that it does not check the accuracy of companies' promotional messages when distributing press releases. PRWeb's practices are in the spotlight after it published a release about a fake Google acquisition on Monday.

NEW YORK: PRWeb owner Vocus said Tuesday that it does not check the accuracy of companies' promotional messages when distributing press releases. PRWeb's practices are in the spotlight after it published a release about a fake Google acquisition on Monday.

A Search Engine Land blog post written by editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan this week claimed PRWeb does not filter spam messages from the releases it distributes. He cited the example of a press release published by PRWeb from the company Your-Best-Pills-Online.com that said it sells drugs including Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra to customers without prescriptions. The blog post was under the headline “How PRWeb helps distribute crap into Google and news sites.”

“Our job is to be the conduit for a company that wants to get its message out there. Our job is not to tell the company whether its message is right or not,” said Peter Shankman, small business evangelist at Vocus. “[PRWeb] reviews releases for accuracy in terms of if they're being submitted by the company that says it's submitting it, correct dates and contact information, and spelling errors, but not to determine whether the company's message is accurate. That's the company's job.”

Fleishman-Hillard president and global CEO Dave Senay said it is up to wire services to act as gatekeepers against fraud or illegitimate messages on their distribution systems.

“We're not going to use a service that has a track record of putting out less-than-credible information packaged as news, and we're not going to align with companies that don't have the credibility necessary to carry the message,” said Senay, who also serves as chair of the Council of Public Relations Firms. “PRWeb expresses what it stands for by the products it distributes.”

Business Wire, Marketwire, and PR Newswire told PRWeek Tuesday that they have personal interaction with customers and review the content of releases before distributing them.

“A lot of times we'll have an editor who catches something that seems wrong, and they bring it up to a manager or VP,” said Business Wire COO Phyllis Dantuono about the company's review process. “It's just about common sense; so we question things, and if they become unclear, then we start to back off from the company or client.” 

PRWeb came under scrutiny earlier this week when it published a fake press release that claimed Google had purchased Rhode Island-based wireless hotspot provider ICOA for $400 million. Several news outlets, including the Associated Press and TechCrunch, picked up the news, and shares of ICOA jumped following its circulation.

ICOA CEO George Strouthopoulos denied the acquisition and called it a “hoax.” The source of the fake release appeared to originate from Aruba using a Gmail address, Strouthopoulos said.

It was not the first time a fraudulent press release has circulated online. Last year, a group called the Yes Men posted a hoax release on the website genewscenters.com – one letter different from General Electric's corporate news site address – claiming GE would pay a $3.2 billion tax refund to the US Treasury. The story was picked up by outlets including the Associated Press.

In 2000, an employee at corporate news service Internet Wire distributed a fake release claiming technology company Emulex would be forced to restate its earnings, was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and that its CEO had resigned. The hoax caused the company's stock to plunge by more than 50%. Internet Wire later rebranded as Marketwire.

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