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Tags brian dunning , Skeptoid podcast

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Old 27th September 2011, 07:16 AM   #1
Reivax
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Brian Dunning lawsuit

I've been listening to Brian Dunning's Skeptoid Podcasts for some time now and have been very impressed with them. I have found them very informative, interesting and well researched, covering a broad range of topics.

After watching the majority of these podcast episodes, purchasing one of his books (which is still in transit), and watching his free 40-minute movie Here Be Dragons, I have gained a lot of respect for him, his work and what he has done for the skeptical community.

However, I recently looked up Brian Dunning on Wikipedia and came across this:

Quote:
eBay lawsuit and related criminal case

In August 2008, eBay filed suit against Dunning and two other men accusing them of defrauding eBay and eBay affiliates in a cookie stuffing scheme. On June 24, 2010, based on the same allegations and following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a grand jury indicted Dunning on charges of wire fraud.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_D..._%28skeptic%29

While I understand that humans make mistakes and are fallible creatures, this did not change the fact that I was shocked to read it. I suppose I was disheartened to see someone who I've gained respect for suffer a hardship and be convicted of a crime. While this may be unrelated to the content of his podcasts and certainly does not invalidate their content in anyway, I find it strange that a person who is debunking and exposing frauds is in fact criticized of fraudulent behavior himself.

I still do not fully understand some of the terminology presented in regards to the lawsuit and the crime committed and after further researching the issue, I found that there is some debate concerning the integrity of the action in question notably his own podcast episode "Internet Paranoia" which expresses some of his views on the matter.

While I will most definitely keep on listening to his podcast, I may reconsider making a donation to his website. As I am still not fully informed on the case at hand, I would be thankful if others could perhaps reiterate it in layman's terms.

Am interested in hearing your responses,

Thanks in advance!

Last edited by Reivax; 27th September 2011 at 08:08 AM. Reason: He is not convicted.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:30 AM   #2
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I've not heard of this before. Are we sure it's the same Brian Dunning, and not a case of overzealous editing?
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:36 AM   #3
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I, despite making about 23,000$ a year, have donated monthly to Skeptiod since 2008.

I love the podcast and consider it to be worth donating to.

Withholding judgement until I better understand what the situation is...
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:46 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Lamuella View Post
I've not heard of this before. Are we sure it's the same Brian Dunning, and not a case of overzealous editing?
I'm fairly confident it is the same Brian Dunning, as there are a lot of other sources suggesting that he and his brother, Todd were involved in the case.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:47 AM   #5
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fair enough, I stand corrected.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:58 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Reivax View Post
While this may be unrelated to the content of his podcasts and certainly does not invalidate their content in anyway, I find it strange that a person who is debunking and exposing frauds is in fact convicted of fraudulent behavior himself.
He's not been convicted of anything. The Feds have indicted him, and eBay has sued in civil court.

Yes, it's the same guy. I first learned of this back before TAM.

He's in deep ****.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:07 AM   #7
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Ah my bad, thanks for pointing that out.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:07 AM   #8
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Quote:
I find it strange that a person who is debunking and exposing frauds is in fact convicted of fraudulent behavior himself.
Then again, you know what they say. "Takes one to know one".

Quote:
I, despite making about 23,000$ a year, have donated monthly to Skeptiod since 2008.

I love the podcast and consider it to be worth donating to.

Withholding judgement until I better understand what the situation is...
I, too, hold the podcast in high regard, it's highly eduational and has a fantastic format. I find this situation highly, for lack of a better word, unfortunate.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:30 AM   #9
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I'm also a follower of the podcast and had no idea there was a fraud indictment.

But, I'm also a bit unclear on what he's charged with doing. "Cookie stuffing" is not illegal, I don't think. Its just a way to pay affiliates for sending traffic your way. So, I wonder what he is specifically charged with doing that made it illegal and got the interest of the FBI? Maybe there were using eBay as a click through page just to set the cookie, then closed the sale on a landing page that was outside of eBay and its control?
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:40 AM   #10
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The links in the story, footnotes #24 & 25 have a wealth of additional information.

http://dockets.justia.com/docket/cal...v04052/206526/

http://www.revenews.com/affiliate-ma...okie-stuffing/

They include a link to the criminal case file.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:41 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
The links in the story, footnotes #24 & 25 have a wealth of additional information.

http://dockets.justia.com/docket/cal...v04052/206526/

http://www.revenews.com/affiliate-ma...okie-stuffing/
Thanks, just found this one, too
http://ebrianrose.com/digital-point-...uffing-scheme/
Quote:
Investigators claimed that Hogan, 35, used computer code to illegally send affiliate tracking cookies to the web browsers of unsuspecting visitors of his Internet marketing chat forum. These cookies are designed to track users actions and pay affiliates for customers that use the eBay service as a result of clicking on legitimate affiliate links placed on websites or emails.

The government alleges that Hogan also “attempted to place this computer code on a large number of web pages, including web pages that were not directly affiliated with Digital Point Solutions.” The twelve page indictment, issued last week, claims that Hogan attempted to hide the cookie stuffing from eBay and Commission Junction, the third party vendor that handles eBay’s affiliate program, by geo-targeting his code not to show up on computers located in San Jose and Santa Barbara, CA, the home bases of eBay and CJ
Looks like bad news all around.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:42 AM   #12
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I don't pretend to understand exactly what they did, but this appears to give more details.

We're not talking peanuts:
Quote:
Between 2006 and June 2007, Shawn Hogan (Digital Point Solutions) earned approximately $15.5 million in commissions from eBay. Hogan was eBay’s number one affiliate.

Between 2006 and June 2007, Dunning (Kessler’s Flying Circus) earned approximately $5.3 million in commissions from eBay. Dunning was eBay’s number two affiliate.

Hogan and Dunning are accused of generating hidden forced clicks on both their own web sites as well as sites not connected with the defendants in order to increase the number of computers storing the eBay affiliate tracking cookie.

The legal criteria for wire fraud was established not on money (commissions) being transferred over the wires, but because of transmission of the tracking cookie between states and internationally.

The affiliates attempted to hide the activity from eBay and CJ by not engaging in the cookie stuffing on computers located in San Jose (eBay headquarters) or Santa Barbara (CJ’s headquarters). This is geo-targeting and is readily known to be used by affiliates engaging in questionable activity. Of course, not all geo-targeting activity in nefarious.

Both Hogan (2005) and Dunning (2006) denied any cookie stuffing behavior when questioned by CJ.

Each individual wire fraud account is related to a particular incident on an IP address outside California (location of eBay servers) where an affiliate cookie for the defendants was set.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:43 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
I'm also a follower of the podcast and had no idea there was a fraud indictment.

But, I'm also a bit unclear on what he's charged with doing. "Cookie stuffing" is not illegal, I don't think. Its just a way to pay affiliates for sending traffic your way. So, I wonder what he is specifically charged with doing that made it illegal and got the interest of the FBI? Maybe there were using eBay as a click through page just to set the cookie, then closed the sale on a landing page that was outside of eBay and its control?
I read the indictment a few months ago, so I've forgotten a lot of the details, but if you read it, it will become apparent what he (allegedly) did. It's not good.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:46 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
I'm also a follower of the podcast and had no idea there was a fraud indictment.

But, I'm also a bit unclear on what he's charged with doing. "Cookie stuffing" is not illegal, I don't think. Its just a way to pay affiliates for sending traffic your way. So, I wonder what he is specifically charged with doing that made it illegal and got the interest of the FBI? Maybe there were using eBay as a click through page just to set the cookie, then closed the sale on a landing page that was outside of eBay and its control?
From the Revenews link:
Quote:
The short version is that eBay alleges that the affiliates named engaged in “cookie stuffing”, specifically generating hidden forced clicks of their Ebay affiliate links. Hidden forced clicks are when an affiliate link is invoked without a physical click by the end user. Various forms of technology and/or coding are used so that the merchant’s site is not actually seen by the end user. The alleged activities in question occurred between 2003 and mid 2007. eBay claims measures were taken to hide the activity and that the defendants denied any wrongdoing when questioned by CJ, which at the time was still running eBay’s program, regarding suspicious traffic.
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:47 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Reivax View Post
I find it strange that a person who is debunking and exposing frauds is in fact criticized of fraudulent behavior himself.
You mean like, for example, a person like Mark Edward who goes around exposing con jobs of psychics was in fact a con man himself?

Or that a peson like Randi goes around exposing fruad magician's tricks like Geller are in fact tricksters themselves?

It seems actually fitting to me...
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Old 27th September 2011, 08:47 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by zooterkin View Post
I don't pretend to understand exactly what they did, but this appears to give more details.

We're not talking peanuts:
Wow, I'm in the wrong business.
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Old 27th September 2011, 09:13 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by GrandMasterFox View Post
You mean like, for example, a person like Mark Edward who goes around exposing con jobs of psychics was in fact a con man himself?

Or that a peson like Randi goes around exposing fruad magician's tricks like Geller are in fact tricksters themselves?

It seems actually fitting to me...
Well there are similarities, but the difference is that the examples you used are self-professed. Mark Edward was for a while, to my knowledge, a genuine, fraudulent psychic, but is now a self professed psychic entertainer and skeptic while Dunning is not a self professed fraud.
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Old 27th September 2011, 10:18 AM   #18
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http://www.revenews.com/affiliate-ma...okie-stuffing/

The link above is from a website dedicated to online revenue, there is a possibility the reporting is bias. The article above implies that the civil suit in which Dunning finds himself is fairly unique. There haven't been other high-profile "cookie-stuffing" cases and it was a grey area which slid into black over time and with new regulations.

http://www.revenews.com/affiliate-ma...-mud-slinging/

In this article one of the defendants claims that he was working with Ebay, that Ebay knew what was going on and encouraged it until Meg Whitman left. Of course, the bias here is fairly obvious.

So it's not quite the same thing as straight-up embezzlement with clearly defined boundaries.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:21 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
"Cookie stuffing" is not illegal, I don't think. Its just a way to pay affiliates for sending traffic your way. So, I wonder what he is specifically charged with doing that made it illegal and got the interest of the FBI? Maybe there were using eBay as a click through page just to set the cookie, then closed the sale on a landing page that was outside of eBay and its control?
Cookie stuffing is textbook fraud. The idea is to trick a merchant (eBay in this case) into thinking someone has visited your site and clicked your affiliate link when they haven't actually done so.

Affiliate programs are supposed to work as follows:
  1. User visits affiliate site.
  2. User clicks on merchant link.
  3. User receives cookie identifying affiliate.
  4. User buys from merchant.
  5. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

With cookie stuffing, the process can be as follows:
  1. User visits some website (not the affiliate or merchant).
  2. User receives cookie identifying affiliate.
  3. User visits merchant site and buys something.
  4. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

In this second scenario, the affiliate was paid even though the user never visited their site.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:29 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by daSkeptic View Post
With cookie stuffing, the process can be as follows:
  1. User visits some website (not the affiliate or merchant).
  2. User receives cookie identifying affiliate.
  3. User visits merchant site and buys something.
  4. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

In this second scenario, the affiliate was paid even though the user never visited their site.

In this scenario, how does the affiliate manage to deposit a cookie via a third party website?
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:44 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by daSkeptic View Post
With cookie stuffing, the process can be as follows:
  1. User visits some website (not the affiliate or merchant).
  2. User receives cookie identifying affiliate.
  3. User visits merchant site and buys something.
  4. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

In this second scenario, the affiliate was paid even though the user never visited their site.
From reading the PDF of the complaint, I think it's more like this, which is subtly different:
  1. User visits affiliate's website (or one they supplied code for)
  2. User doesn't click on (or necessarily even see) a link to the merchant, but gets a cookie identifying the affiliate anyway, as if they did.
  3. Some time in the next month, user visits merchant site and buys something.
  4. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

The cookie should only be there if the affiliate was responsible for the user visiting the merchant's web site.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:49 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by zooterkin View Post
From reading the PDF of the complaint, I think it's more like this, which is subtly different:
  1. User visits affiliate's website (or one they supplied code for)
  2. User doesn't click on (or necessarily even see) a link to the merchant, but gets a cookie identifying the affiliate anyway, as if they did.
  3. User visits merchant site and buys something.
  4. Merchant sees affiliate cookie and sends them a commission.

The cookie should only be there if the affiliate was responsible for the user visiting the merchant's web site.
According to the various explanations of what's gone on, both methods (and daSkeptic's example was very clearly only one of many -- he said the process "can be as follows" not "only is as follows") were used.

You, yourself, linked to an article that said both were used.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:50 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by daSkeptic View Post
In this second scenario, the affiliate was paid even though the user never visited their site.
Fair enough. I understood both processes could be considered "cookie stuffing" depending on how its done. With so many people browsing with no attention paid to cookies its easy to set cookies without user knowledge. The way I had heard the term used suggested that anytime the user didn't know about the cookie it was "cookie stuffing". But, I can see how the term might be better defined as fraudulently setting cookies without the user knowing.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:51 AM   #24
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Last I heard, his trial is next month in (I believe) San Jose. I'm sure we'll learn more soon.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:55 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by AdMan View Post
In this scenario, how does the affiliate manage to deposit a cookie via a third party website?
I think, for instance, you set up an internet forum and set the cookie for every visitor to the forum - the cookie identifies your affiliate business. Then, whenever those visitors buy from a participating merchant the merchant reads the cookie and pays you commission for the business/traffic. So, the cookie is set without the user knowing and without the user actually using the affiliate site to click through to the merchant.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:55 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by AdMan View Post
In this scenario, how does the affiliate manage to deposit a cookie via a third party website?
The affiliate doesn't generate the cookies directly, in either scenario. The merchant does. One method is for each affiliate to be given a unique URL by the merchant, which the affiliate places somewhere on their site. When a user clicks the appropriate link, the browser goes to the unique URL and the merchant knows which affiliate to credit.

There are ways to cause a browser to request a URL without the user being aware of it. Invisible elements, JavaScript, etc. If a site employs one of these techniques with an affiliate URL, the net result is a merchant cookie being given to the browser without the user's knowledge.

In order to accomplish this, however, the third-party site has to contain the necessary elements. This can be done by hacking or collusion.
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Old 27th September 2011, 11:59 AM   #27
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I appreciate that the tone of this conversation is not typical of most such posts on the Internet, where the posters almost seem to gleefully gloat over this. It is the most horrible and traumatic thing to ever happen to my family, and was shocking and unexpected to say the very least.

I'm preparing a blog post that will address as much of this as possible. It must be approved by attorneys and that's taking a long time. Until that happens, I regret that I won't say anything more about this. You all deserve an explanation, which I would love to give.

Those who know me personally have a much better idea of what kind of man I am than those who simply read these complaints that have been filed. Those who know how the legal system works know that complaints reflect one party's assertions, and do not include any part of the defense, or anything at all that does not support their position. They are intentionally written that way.

I ask you all, the closest community I've ever had the privilege to be a part of, to give me the benefit of the doubt and suspend your judgement and speculation until a meaningful percentage of the facts are made public. Please accept my apologies in advance for not participating any further in this thread or on any other until I'm able to post my blog. Until then, I'm continuing to do what I do best and be as productive as circumstances permit.
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Old 27th September 2011, 12:01 PM   #28
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It should be noted that Brian himself has said nothing about this in any public forum. This is the only legally sound way to proceed--there is a good reason people and companies to not comment on pending litigation. Because of this, we have no idea what Brian's defenses might be, what his position and viewpoint are.

Who knows the level of his personal involvement in the alleged scheme. Could he have just been the money guy, providing capitol while someone else provided the technical expertise? Dunno. Maybe. He may have just been an investor in this small company, with no more involvement than doing corporate paperwork and providing start-up money. Again, dunno.

It has been a couple months since I read the indictment, but from what I remember it is a somewhat curiously worded document, only charging Brian with a few (five, if my memory is correct) particular transactions involving alleged cookie stiffing from foreign ip addresses that accessed eBay with stuffed cookies. I found it very strange that the feds only used these few instances involving international customers of eBay, and none from the USA.

I would be very interested to hear what Brian has to say about all of this, but no way his lawyer will let that happen until after the trial, if then. He will still have the eBay civil lawsuit to worry about, although if he is convicted at the criminal trial, that would seem to settle the issue of liability for the civil trial, and the only issue left over should be damages.
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Old 27th September 2011, 12:03 PM   #29
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Apparently Brian and I were drafting our replies at the same time. Good luck, Brian!
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Old 27th September 2011, 12:11 PM   #30
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Thanks Brian. I'm torn between the visceral "death to the internet scammers!" reaction and the idea that you're one of the good guys. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and I wish you luck in this mess.

But, I do look forward to what explanation you can offer when you can.
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Old 27th September 2011, 06:59 PM   #31
Darth Rotor
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Originally Posted by briandunning View Post
I appreciate that the tone of this conversation is not typical of most such posts on the Internet, where the posters almost seem to gleefully gloat over this. It is the most horrible and traumatic thing to ever happen to my family, and was shocking and unexpected to say the very least.

I'm preparing a blog post that will address as much of this as possible. It must be approved by attorneys and that's taking a long time. Until that happens, I regret that I won't say anything more about this. You all deserve an explanation, which I would love to give.

Those who know me personally have a much better idea of what kind of man I am than those who simply read these complaints that have been filed. Those who know how the legal system works know that complaints reflect one party's assertions, and do not include any part of the defense, or anything at all that does not support their position. They are intentionally written that way.

I ask you all, the closest community I've ever had the privilege to be a part of, to give me the benefit of the doubt and suspend your judgement and speculation until a meaningful percentage of the facts are made public. Please accept my apologies in advance for not participating any further in this thread or on any other until I'm able to post my blog. Until then, I'm continuing to do what I do best and be as productive as circumstances permit.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:14 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by briandunning View Post
I appreciate that the tone of this conversation is not typical of most such posts on the Internet, where the posters almost seem to gleefully gloat over this. It is the most horrible and traumatic thing to ever happen to my family, and was shocking and unexpected to say the very least.

I'm preparing a blog post that will address as much of this as possible. It must be approved by attorneys and that's taking a long time. Until that happens, I regret that I won't say anything more about this. You all deserve an explanation, which I would love to give.

Those who know me personally have a much better idea of what kind of man I am than those who simply read these complaints that have been filed. Those who know how the legal system works know that complaints reflect one party's assertions, and do not include any part of the defense, or anything at all that does not support their position. They are intentionally written that way.

I ask you all, the closest community I've ever had the privilege to be a part of, to give me the benefit of the doubt and suspend your judgement and speculation until a meaningful percentage of the facts are made public. Please accept my apologies in advance for not participating any further in this thread or on any other until I'm able to post my blog. Until then, I'm continuing to do what I do best and be as productive as circumstances permit.
I give you the benefit of the doubt. EBay is a profit dedicated organization and while I sell on EBay because they have the customer base for what I sell, I have been very disappointed in their corporate business practices. I wish their competition was better.

That said, I don't appreciate anyone who manipulates my web page visits without my knowledge and I find the charges very serious. I do hope EBay is wrong and you are right.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:16 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by briandunning View Post
I appreciate that the tone of this conversation is not typical of most such posts on the Internet, where the posters almost seem to gleefully gloat over this. It is the most horrible and traumatic thing to ever happen to my family, and was shocking and unexpected to say the very least.

I'm preparing a blog post that will address as much of this as possible. It must be approved by attorneys and that's taking a long time. Until that happens, I regret that I won't say anything more about this. You all deserve an explanation, which I would love to give.

Those who know me personally have a much better idea of what kind of man I am than those who simply read these complaints that have been filed. Those who know how the legal system works know that complaints reflect one party's assertions, and do not include any part of the defense, or anything at all that does not support their position. They are intentionally written that way.

I ask you all, the closest community I've ever had the privilege to be a part of, to give me the benefit of the doubt and suspend your judgement and speculation until a meaningful percentage of the facts are made public. Please accept my apologies in advance for not participating any further in this thread or on any other until I'm able to post my blog. Until then, I'm continuing to do what I do best and be as productive as circumstances permit.
As a person who has been the subject of gossip based on information that proved eventually to be completely false, I empathize and have no problem with simply not forming any opinions about this matter until you've said whatever it is you'll have to say about it.
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:26 PM   #34
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You're listening to skeptoid. On today's episode..... the Brian Dunning case....

Sorry for the morbid humor. GL Brian. I love what you do. Not sure if you are guilty or not..... but at the end of the day you would have to kill someone before the bad outweighs the good.,,, and even then..
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Old 27th September 2011, 07:44 PM   #35
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Brian, I do hope this gets resolved soon, so you can concentrate on your other projects...
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Old 28th September 2011, 12:51 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by briandunning View Post
I appreciate that the tone of this conversation is not typical of most such posts on the Internet, where the posters almost seem to gleefully gloat over this. It is the most horrible and traumatic thing to ever happen to my family, and was shocking and unexpected to say the very least.

I'm preparing a blog post that will address as much of this as possible. It must be approved by attorneys and that's taking a long time. Until that happens, I regret that I won't say anything more about this. You all deserve an explanation, which I would love to give.

Those who know me personally have a much better idea of what kind of man I am than those who simply read these complaints that have been filed. Those who know how the legal system works know that complaints reflect one party's assertions, and do not include any part of the defense, or anything at all that does not support their position. They are intentionally written that way.

I ask you all, the closest community I've ever had the privilege to be a part of, to give me the benefit of the doubt and suspend your judgement and speculation until a meaningful percentage of the facts are made public. Please accept my apologies in advance for not participating any further in this thread or on any other until I'm able to post my blog. Until then, I'm continuing to do what I do best and be as productive as circumstances permit.
Thank you for your reply Brian. I'm interested in hearing your version of events. I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in the meantime. I wish you the very best of luck.
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Old 28th September 2011, 03:12 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by briandunning View Post
You all deserve an explanation
I coudln't disagree more with this. Why are we "deserving" an explanation?
Don't get me wrong, if you want to talk about it by all means do.
But it is your decision concerning your life. You don't owe any of us anything what so ever.

Ad hominem is a logical fallacy for a reason.
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Old 28th September 2011, 03:16 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Reivax View Post
Well there are similarities, but the difference is that the examples you used are self-professed. Mark Edward was for a while, to my knowledge, a genuine, fraudulent psychic, but is now a self professed psychic entertainer and skeptic while Dunning is not a self professed fraud.
I used to do my fair share of hacking in the days, nothing major (didn't steal money or anything) but stuff that would in fact be ilegal. I was never caught.

Does that mean I shouldn't have been able to get a job in information security as I have in the past couple of years?

As the other person said, it's an issue of "takes one to know one"*

A person's past criminal record would come to question when it prevents him from doing his job properly. I don't have a problem if a person convicted of fraud will teach highschool history, for example. I do have a problem if a pedophile does.


*not saying Brian is a fraud, don't know the details and don't really care that much either.
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Old 28th September 2011, 07:48 AM   #39
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Mr. Dunning, my thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time. The stress must be incredible. Here's hoping that it is over soon so that your lives can go back to normal.
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Old 12th October 2011, 04:33 PM   #40
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It took a long time but here is what I was able to get approval to say:
http://skeptoid.com/blog/2011/10/05/...l-explanation/

Thanks much to all those who have offered me such wonderful support.
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