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Metro Times, Freep, and Others Fall Victim to Content Theft, Bad Bot Translations

Metro Times, Freep, and Others Fall Victim to Content Theft, Bad Bot Translations

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 21, 2019)

Ferndale, MI- Metro Times, Detroit Free Press (Freep), and Clarkston News are among an untold number of publications whose online articles are being ripped off and slightly changed by a website operator profiting from the thefts.

The “content scraping” website is snagging news stories and replacing some words with synonyms.  This could be the result of poor translation, or an attempt to throw off programs that detect content duplication.  The website shows up in web searches.   When people visit the site, the owners earn revenue from the many Google Ads that are placed there.

Based on registry records, the site is registered in Panama. There is no contact information on the site, and the hosting company has not yet responded to our request for comment.

When searching for information on the recent Depot Park fundraiser happening in Clarkston, the Danilfineman website ranked higher than the source article on The Clarkston News website. This type of placement can mean traffic being diverted from the original site to the theft site.

The website changes give the stories an awkward, unusual quality.  Here is the Danilfineman version of a quote by Clarkston Mayor Eric Haven:

“Depot Park is a spot for recreation schooling, inspiration, commemoration, and repose for all generations,” Haven stated. “It’s a pure place with the Clinton River and Mill Race working via it, with two stunning bridges. It has a magnificence characterized by its pure plantings, rain gardens, river financial institution, raised gardens tended by Tom Lowrie and grasp gardeners; a spot for younger households through the day, night walks, and occasions in the summertime.”

And here is the original as published in Clarkston News:

“Depot Park is a place for recreation education, inspiration, commemoration, and repose for all generations,” Haven said. “It’s a natural place with the Clinton River and Mill Race running through it, with two beautiful bridges. It has a beauty characterized by its natural plantings, rain gardens, river bank, raised gardens tended by Tom Lowrie and master gardeners; a place for young families during the day, evening walks, and events in the summer.”

The stolen article also changes Center Lake to Middle Lake. Instead of Friends of Depot Park, it’s “Buddies” of Depot Park.  It also refers to the “labor of affection,” being undertaken by the community, the “Metropolis Supervisor” Jonathan Smith, and the “everlasting public restroom” the city is hoping to install.

Danilfineman has also snagged several Metro Times food columns. For example a recent review of the Downtown Ferndale restaurant Antihero had many swapped out words.  In the Danilfineman version, Executive Chef Nick Erven is referred to as “Government Chef,” and the “Review” is called “Evaluations.”

“A DJ discretely holds house in a nook at the entrance of the eating room,” and “the lighting is low yet heat” are among the awkward rewrites.

In another article stolen from Metro Times, Garden Fresh Salsa is referred to as “Backyard Recent” Salsa, and another post discussed “Demise of a Salesman” at the Ringwald Theatre in Downtown Ferndale, they changed “profoundly sad” to “profoundly unhappy” to describe the play.

The Detroit Free Press has also fallen prey to Danilfineman.  A recent article on the collapse of the Packard Plant walkway originally led with “The Packard Plant’s famous bridge over East Grand Boulevard in Detroit collapsed Wednesday afternoon, covering the roadway that cuts through the iconic ruin with debris,” in the Detroit Free Press.  The end of this was changed by Danilfineman to say “overlaying the roadway that cuts by way of the iconic spoil with particles.”

“It misplaced most of its remaining industrial tenants within the 1990s, a interval when the crumbling manufacturing unit grounds grew to become identified for internet hosting vigorous rave events,” the stolen copy said.

“It lost most of its remaining industrial tenants in the 1990s, a period when the crumbling factory grounds became known for hosting lively rave parties,” was the original line.

Metro Times Editor Lee DeVito learned of the website Friday  “This is very frustrating. We put a lot of work into our food restaurant reviews, and send our writers multiple times to try new places. That said, this version of our story just feels “off,” like it was translated from English to another language and back to English. Stuff like this just contributes to the “uncanny valley” feeling of the current internet, where you can’t tell if you’re interacting with bots or real people on Twitter,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ll lose too much traffic to something like this. It lacks “soul.” Maybe we’ll lose some Google traffic to websites like this, but I can’t imagine readers would prefer this to the real deal. I hope President Trump will do something to combat this ‘fake news,” DeVito said in an email, adding an *eyeroll* at the end.

Clarkston News Editor Phil Custodio did not return request for comment, though there is now a block on the Clarkston News website to prevent this reporter from viewing any stories on their website.

Other Michigan-based sites have seen thefts, as well as locally-focused sites around the world.  Others include Ionia-Sentenel Standard,  Livingston Post, and ABC News.

There are ways that publishers can fight having their content stolen.  SEO consultant Neil Patel lists several ideas for tracking and stopping content scrappers, including contacting the hosting company to report the offending website.

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