FCC Chair Ajit Pai recently shrugged off concerns about the hundreds of thousands of bogus, identical anti-net neutrality comments filed with the Commission, saying it was something for his IT folks to look into. But the real human beings whose names were used on those fake filings are not as indifferent, and are calling on Pai to investigate.
The spambot’s work first came to light earlier in May, when more than a hundred thousand identical anti-net neutrality comments came pouring in to the system in a highly suspicious way.
A few weeks later, the docket overall is up to nearly 2.7 million comments — of which, at last estimate, approximately a half million were from the bot (It’s hard to determine how many at this exact moment, because the ECFS search function is currently not producing correct results.)
Not only is whoever is behind the bot submitting the same fake comment en masse, but also it’s doing it with stolen names and identities that probably were purloined in data breaches. So advocacy group Fight for the Future set up a tool making it easy for anyone to search the database for their own name, and then say if they actually submitted “their” comment or not.
Fight for the Future says it has received “dozens of verified reports” from people who never submitted the comments that exist in their names. So far two of those include friends of “recently-deceased individuals” that confirmed their friends “could not have posted the comments posthumously.”
Zombies aside, the group today published a letter from 14 individuals all around the country whose identities were used by the bot — and they are not happy about it.
“Our names and personal information were used to file comments we did not make to the Federal Communications Commission,” they write to FCC chairman Ajit Pai and chief information officer David Bray.
“We are disturbed by reports that indicate you have no plans to remove these fraudulent comments from the public docket,” the letter continues. “Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, publicly expose our private information without our permission, and used our identities to file a political statement we did not sign onto.”
The writers call on the FCC to remove all of the fraudulent comments, as well as to notify anyone who was impacted and to share information about the investigation into who is behind it.
“While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position, it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack,” the writers conclude.
So far, Fight for the Future says, just over 2,400 people have used the group’s Comcastroturf site to contact their state attorneys general, asking for investigations.
“In my nearly 30 years of being an Internet user, I’ve been extremely judicious about using my real name online,” one Massachusetts man told Fight for the Future. “On those rare times when I have chosen to do so, it’s been for something I feel strongly about. To see my good name used to present an opinion diametrically opposed to my own view on Net Neutrality makes me feel sad and violated.”
Meanwhile, the docket is still open until mid-August for everyone to leave their own thoughts. If you — a real person, preferably currently alive — would like to share with the FCC your non-bot thoughts about its plan to kill net neutrality, here’s how.