eStore Owner Charged With Bullying Customers

Dennis Faas's picture

The owner of an online eyeglasses store has been charged with making electronic threats to disappointed customers. However, in doing so, Vitaly Borker believes the threats actually helped to boost the site's position in Google search rankings, and thus bring more traffic to his website.

Borker, who operates, has been charged with four offenses: cyberstalking, making interstate threats, mail fraud and wire fraud. In at least one case, he is accused both of delivering a counterfeit pair of "designer" spectacles and vastly overcharging the customer.

When the New York Times investigated that case, it found that "hundreds" of similar complaints had been made on consumer review websites. But in both Internet and conversations with the newspapers, Borker said he welcomed the online complaints because they boosted the profile of the site. (Source:

Google's Secret Algorithm

The tactic was targeted at Google. Although the precise details of how Google's search rankings are calculated is secretly guarded, it's believed to cover three main areas: how often and prominently the search term is mentioned on the page; how many other sites link to the page; and how big (in terms of status) those sites are.

The big problem in this case is that some of the complaint sites are both large and respected, meaning a link from there should indeed boost the standing of a site. That's a bad thing when people search for the name of a site itself as it means the first page of results will be flooded with links highlighting complaints. But when it comes to searches for brand names of products, or generic product terms, Borker's strategy may have paid off.

Media Reports May Have Worsened Effects

According to Google, there's a major irony in the case: it argues that many of the complaint sites had no benefit to Borker's site because they use a piece of HTML code which links to a site but specifically tells search engines not to take that link into account. Instead, some of the biggest boosts to the ranking came from mainstream media website reports on Borker's alleged offenses, which carry even more weight in search terms.

Google has been looking into the idea of sentiment analysis, an attempt to automatically distinguish between links from sources that refer to a page in positive, neutral or negative terms, but said it hasn't found a way to do this efficiently. However, it says that in the past week it's developed a tweak to its system that helps weed out and demote pages from retailers that "provide an extremely poor user experience." (Source:

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