PRWeb apologizes for distributing fake release

NEW YORK: PRWeb owner Vocus apologized Thursday for publishing a press release about a fake Google acquisition.

NEW YORK: PRWeb owner Vocus apologized Thursday for publishing a press release about a fake Google acquisition.

Vocus CEO Rick Rudman said in a blog post that the company's safeguards, which include an editor reviewing each submitted release, personal interactions with customers via telephone and email, and precautions for releases that contain ticker symbols, were "not enough" in this case. The company has “already made changes to do better going forward,” he added.  

“To those who have asked about our process and our safeguards, I can tell you that we do have both,” Rudman said. “Yes – with all the growth and all the great news releases, we've also distributed some not so great releases. This is why we're constantly reviewing our guidelines and editorial standards and why the events of the past few days have already sparked real changes, both human and software-driven within PRWeb that will further improve the quality of the news releases we distribute.”

Vocus PR director Frank Strong declined to name the specific changes put into place following the hoax release, but said they “will have depth and breadth.”

“We are taking a hard look at policy, technology, and staffing. There are aspects we can change immediately, and there are some things we can implement in parallel and over time. For example, we are reviewing existing content now and considering how we will improve editorial policies for new content moving forward,” Strong said in an email.

Rudman also defended PRWeb's practices and review process for company-generated content. Earlier this week, a blogger from Search Engine Land claimed PRWeb does not filter out spam messages from companies when it distributes releases. 

“PRWeb exists to give businesses a way to get their announcements and news directly to the audience that most wants them,” Rudman said. “I may not be interested in attending an event in Beverly Hills for a new plastic surgery procedure, but there are people who are. And of course, there are plenty of well-known larger companies delivering their news and announcements through PRWeb and into the hands of interested consumers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

PRWeb published a fake press release Monday 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.

Search Engine Land editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan set off another discussion about PRWeb's practices following the hoax release when he wrote a blog titled, “How PRWeb helps distribute crap into Google and news sites.” He pointed out a press release published by PRWeb from the company that said it sells drugs including Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra to customers without prescriptions.

Peter Shankman, small business evangelist at Vocus, said at the time that PRWeb's “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.”

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