Australian startup Oneflare accused of ‘repurposing’ another website for spam

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UPDATE [11/12/13]: The story has now a happy ending. Oneflare has decided to donate back the domain name to its original owners. The original story is below.


If you happen to own domain names, it really does suck when you accidentally forget to renew them. Especially when an Australian startup decides to acquire it for the purposes of using your reputation on Google to promote their new product.

This happened to the Online Journalism Review – a relatively popular website in during the early days of Web 2.0 that covered how old journalism was adapting to new technology – where a Sydney-based startup called Oneflare managed to acquire their domain name when it expired.

According to Nieman Journalism Labs, Oneflare produced a similar-looking website to the actual OJR website – including using the logos of the owners, the University of Southern California Annenberg, and a lot of the old content. The only main differences from the Oneflare version and the actual site was the logo (it was in Comic Sans), and a new post (available from the Internet Archive).

Online Journalism Review — Focusing on the future of digital journalism

Left: the actual OJR website. Right: Oneflare’s version of the OJR website. (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Nieman also posted screenshots of the owner of the OJR.org website that reveal that Oneflare did indeed own the domain – its domain registration details had the name of its CEO, Marcus Lim, and the address of the company. Interestingly enough, Nieman also wrote that the company later on scrubbed out the details with WhoisGuard.

Screenshot of OJR.org under Oneflare (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Screenshot of OJR.org under Oneflare (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Soon after it was publicised, they quickly removed any references of USC Annenberg and the use of old articles from OJR. They also changed their name to the “Online Journal Review” and published five more articles backdated to 2011.

USC Annenberg told Nieman in a statement that they are “taking steps to regain control of Online Journalism Review, after the domain of OJR.org was allowed to lapse earlier this month.” At the time of writing, when we tried to access the OJR.org website, we get an empty directory listing page. This either means that they were successful in getting the domain back, or Oneflare has removed the entire site.

So, why decide to take the name of OJR.org? Well, it might be to get a higher ranking in search engines. Looking at its PageRank, the OJR.org domain has a pretty good 7 out of 10 rating. This is important, because Google uses this to determine the ranking of websites in search queries – through links on the page.

“External links are important for SEO because as far as a search engine is concerned, these are considered an endorsement of your site, increasing your ranking power and making your site more visible,” CTO and co-founder of Oneflare, Adam Dong, wrote in a post for The Sydney Morning Herald’s small business section in October on the topic of getting a “good SEO strategy.”

I should stress that there is nothing wrong in purchasing an old domain and repurposing that. However, as Nieman Journalism Labs notes:

But Lim’s doing far more than reusing a domain name. He’s clearly wrong to pretend that his version of OJR.org is actually the Online Journalism Review. Putting those USC and USC Annenberg logos on the site is clearly intended to mislead, and almost certainly legally actionable should USC want to send a cease and desist. And Lim certainly does not own the copyright of those hundreds of old articles that he’s copied and reprinted whole.

We’ve contacted Oneflare for a response.

H/T @Asher_Wolf

Join the Conversation

  • pdsnews

    Oneflare may be great for people looking for quotes (fair enough) but it’s totally awful for any trade or service supplier that quotes. We get charged $20/$25 per quote regardless if we get the job or not and often we can’t work out if the person asking for quotes is real and if the job is awarded to the “Mates”… how is it that lucrative jobs are closed for quoting in 4 seconds? (yes 4 seconds)

    Getting answers from the Oneflare team is easy but the value of those answers are almost 100% useless! All in all they are a well oiled machine that I am very weary of. I can’t say that I trust them and I am concerned that they are a business that is very good at ripping off the businesses that quote.

  • Divij

    We have also signed up to their newsletters but never really paid to quote on leads. We receive way too many emails from them for small businesses looking for leads and that looks too good to be true.
    Our company specialises in Web Design and SEO and it will be interesting to see if Google considers this spam and actually penalizes them.

    D
    http://www.websitesnmore.com.au

    • Divij

      Small businesses looking for quotes*

  • Gregg

    Gregg M. I didn’t know that I was on this site until I found it while checking other sites. The stories I have read are a worry. However it does explain a lot such as why I get alerts on jobs. Like Phil I find they are imposible to track the the clients. Ph No.s that have incoming call restrictions on them, Looking at a new site will it be taken over as well ?

  • Gregg

    Gregg M.

  • Trev

    Phil.

    Yep, totally agree, joined and I get leads but from other States (Australia) and the very few directed to my place when I have called the number or email clients, totally no response at all. This has happened 4 times now and I have since removed their ‘placement’ logo I had to put in on my website, etc.

  • Phil

    They scrape business adverts and listings from free sources and list them on their website, then make sure they rank higher on search engines than your other paid adverts. Users seek “quotes” on OneFlare by looking for something like computer assistance. OneFlare then automatically sends out messages to businesses asking for $10 to release customer details so they can call up. So 10 businesses get the customer, one gets the job. OneFlare collects public data which is illegal in Australia, where they are operating. I’m also adamant that 50% of messages from OneFlare are baited and not real customers asking for quotes.

    Customers have no idea how much it is costing small businesses merely to contact them now, when previously with effective marketing, customers would contact me with no extra cost.

    I now receive 0% enquiries through previous advertisements and 100% from OneFlare, most of which are costly duds. I now have to seek work with word of mouth or cold calling businesses. OneFlare are a major problem.

    This tactic is absolutely obfuscating results and methods of contacting businesses for less technically minded people searching the internet.

  • Robin

    Oneflare in New South Wales are dodgy – Been ripped off on a job done by one of their contractors. They have a guarantee that does not help me – Never again Oneflare

  • OneFlare have been doing a lot of nasty things from an SEO perspective. This is just another one to add to the list.

  • There are many of things you need consider to promote your brand like External links are important for SEO because search engine is considered and it’s support of our site, increasing our ranking power and making our site more visible.