Swiss media stories among targets of 'digital hitman' company

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Swiss media stories among targets of 'digital hitman' company
Digital reputation firm Eliminalia uses various techniques to remove genuine articles or make them invisible, including posting positive articles under fake online media names. Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Some articles published online by Swiss media outlets, including the SBC and 24 Heures, have been deleted or made invisible by Eliminalia, a Swiss-based e-reputation company that provides its services to criminals and corrupt politicians, a disinformation investigation has found.


Journalists at French Swiss broadcaster RTS had sight of confidential documents that showed that thousands of investigative reports published by media outlets around the world had disappeared.

Eliminalia's promise is: "We eliminate your past. We help you with your future."

The e-reputation leader has three offices in Switzerland and further outposts all over the world, totalling around a dozen.

The company states that it uses legal methods to erase photos or negative comments and that its clients are victims of "unjustified' online attacks, but according to RTS, the reality is very different.

The list of Eliminalia's clients seen by RTS, one of 30 media firms taking part in a global disinformation campaign piloted by France's Forbidden Stories, includes convicted sex traffickers, as well as fraudsters, money launderers and arms dealers, and even former Chilean torturers.

The company has more than 1,500 clients around the world, including 43 in Switzerland, RTS reports.

Several are Italian nationals living in Ticino who have paid to clear their mafia business names in Italy so they can build new businesses.

Other Swiss clients are involved in tax evasion or cryptocurrency scams. There's even a circus performer who was recently convicted of sexual assault on a minor.

Those looking to clear their name online will need to pay Eliminalia from CHF 5,000 up to several hundred thousand Swiss francs.


A service for organised crime

According to digital law expert and lawyer Sebastien Fanti, the EU's "right to be forgotten" rule can sometimes be justified.

People can legitimately request that websites or search engines remove certain information about them, depending on how serious this information is and when it dates back to.  

"A youthful mistake or a teenager's stupidity should not follow a person all his or her life on the internet," he told RTS. 

"With Eliminalia, it's not about the right to be forgotten. This company erases the investigative work of journalists, it erases the truth. This company is a digital hitman," he added. 

Eliminalia says it is able to erase any online newspaper article. Indeed, the confidential documents seen by the investigating journalists show that articles from Swiss media, such as, the SBC, and 24 Heures, as well as other outlets like Le Monde and Vice News, have disappeared.


How do they do it?

Computer scientists use various techniques to delete the articles or make them invisible. One of these is the so-called "drowning" technique, which involves using more than 600 fake online media, with names such as CNN News Today or London Uncensored, to post positive articles about Eliminalia clients.

These fake articles then appear at the top of a Google search with the real ones 'drowned' out, i.e. pushed to the back of Google's results list.

Eliminalia also uses a technique that de-indexes articles by abusing the copyright declaration system set up by Google, Twitter and Facebook. It clones negative articles about Eliminalia clients, changes the date of the article and makes a copyright infringement claim.


This sleight-of-hand trick means they can de-index the genuine articles, making them invisible.

The company also uses hackers who erase documents or specific articles at the source. RTS said this information came from a Spanish security service source, but that the investigative team had not found any proof that a major European media outlet had been attacked in this way, 

Eliminalia did not respond to Forbidden Stories' and RTS' requests for comment, but they did threaten legal action via a letter from a French law firm.

Furthermore, despite founder Diego Sanchez' past involvement in the trade of surrogate mothers, which attracted negative reporting, there are only positive articles and videos about him online now.

This is presumably because the wealthy entrepreneur has used his company's services to clean up his own past, RTS suggested. 



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