More (bad) publicity than even Ben Stein's money can buy

Ben+SteinNothing gets you scorn on the Web like being a bully. That’s something Adaptive Marketing, the company behind FreeScore.com, should be well aware of by now. Adaptive, which lures consumers with offers of “free” credit reports only to tack a recurring charge onto their monthly credit card bills for other services, recently sued an anonymous blogger who wrote about their bait-and-switch tactics.

Of course, Adaptive and its parent company Vertrue didn’t go after Reuter’s blogger Felix Salmon whose post about Ben Stein’s commercials for FreeScore.com may have gotten Stein fired from his job as a New York Times columnist, and it didn’t go after the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post or a bunch of other outlets that wrote critical stories about Adaptive ( interestingly enough, all those other critics have lawyers who can defend them against frivolous lawsuits). Instead, Adaptive asked a Connecticut court to force Yahoo! to provide it with the email address for the person who authors the flâneur de fraude blog.

This is where Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney with a long record of defending these type of free speech cases, comes in. Public Citizen has asked the court to deny Adaptive’s request for discovery. Levy wrote about the case at the Public Citizen-sponsored Consumer Law & Policy blog:

So Adaptive’s suit seems to be just the latest in a long line of cases in which companies that don’t want to be criticized seek to cleanse their reputations through subpoenas sent as a means of intimidation to those who may not be able to defend themselves.

Felix Salmon also writes about Adaptive’s bullying and wonders why, if Adaptive feels it has been defamed, it has never contacted him or Reuters:

Adaptive has never complained to Flâneur, to me, or to anybody else, as far as I can tell, about any of our characterizations of their business. They never asked for any of our blog entries to be updated or edited, and they were conspicuous by their absence during the brouhaha over Ben Stein. If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so — not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.

The case also got a mention in Andrew Leonard’s blog How the World Works on Salon, where Leonard sarcastically comments that Adaptive/Vertrue has every reason to shut up flâneur de fraude:

I can see Vertrue’s point! Who wants that kind of information spread out all over the Internet, where it might dissuade potential customers from making that lucrative phone call in search of their “free” credit score? Which is why it is our responsibility to spread the news about Ben Stein’s employer as far and wide as possible. Bloggers of the world, unite — it’s never too late to beat up on Ben Stein, one more time.

It’s a wonder why companies such as Adaptive think it makes good business sense to go after bloggers on such non-existent legal grounds. (Tech Dirt also notes that Adaptive is suing Wikipedia). Haven’t they learned by now that nobody likes a bully and that all they’re doing is creating a buzz about their questionable marketing practices?

This from financial blogger Gary Weiss:

Take a bow, Ben Stein! You really have sold your soul on this one. But I must admit, you certainly are getting some terrific publicity for Freescore, as well as yourself, and from more than just your old pal Felix Salmon. Let’s hope regulators shut it down, and fast, thanks to your good work.