Dangerous times for consumer advocacy

Dangerous times for consumer advocacy

These are dangerous times for consumer advocacy. And I’m not just talking about the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial plans to start tracking people like me.

My colleagues are dying in the line of duty. People like Yaser Murtaja, shot as he covered a demonstration last week on the Gaza-Israel border. He was wearing a “PRESS” vest.

Tragic.

Advocacy isn’t a war zone, but it’s sure starting to feel like it.

We’re down!

Last week, hackers hit my consumer advocacy site with a wave of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks use sophisticated techniques to render a site unavailable by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services of a host connected to the Internet.

The perpetrators, most likely criminals contracted by a company that doesn’t like what we’ve written, managed to slow the site to a crawl. But they never knocked us offline completely.

I’m tired of the sleepless nights and answering countless emails that ask, “Did you know your site is down?” But probably not as tired as the hackers, whose efforts to take my site offline have failed.

I’m not giving up. No one ever said advocacy would be easy.

Cease and desist

Most angry corporations prefer a more legal — but morally questionable — way of removing content from my site. And to be clear, this information is publicly available data, like names, numbers, and email addresses of their executives.

My colleague Neil Swidey described the ups and downs of keeping our database in an exhaustive Boston Globe magazine piece published today.

I wish he’d also included the critical part our research team plays in this effort and the essential role of my pro bono law firm in fending off these nuisance attacks.

There’s a real danger that at some point, one of the lawsuits will find its way into court. We’ll win, of course, but it will be a distraction and could set the advocacy back by months or years.

Like I said, dangerous times.

Unstable media outlets

As you know, I rely on media outlets to find new cases and to inform readers. And those outlets are in an almost constant state of flux. Just today, one of my main outlets, the Dallas Morning News, appears to have dropped its entire travel section, and my column with it.

Placing my new syndicated column, Problem Solved, into newspapers and online publications, has proven almost impossible. I have the best sales team in the news business at King Features, but publications are fearful of picking up content that could cost them advertising.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to publish my Q&A columns online without fear. I’ll answer the cease-and-desist letters with an unambiguous “no.” I will not give in to threats and DDoS attacks in these dangerous times. Not now, not ever.

Thank you for your support.

Here are this week’s stories

See you next week.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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