The online merchant who notoriously bullied his customers–in hopes that they would be inspired to leave him bad online reviews and subsequently up his Google PageRank–pled guilty to several counts against him on Thursday.
Vitaly Borker, owner of online glasses store DecorMyEyes.com, pled guilty in a Federal District Court to two counts of sending threatening communications, one count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud, The New York Times reports. The sentencing is scheduled for September 16, and Borker may face up to six and a half years in prison.
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Borker rose to fame last November, when The New York Times published a story about his less-than-savory business tactics. Borker discovered that Google’s PageRank system did not discriminate when it came to reviews–the more reviews and mentions of his business page that existed on the Internet, the higher his PageRank went. In fact, links from highly ranked consumer advocacy sites, such as GetSatisfaction.com, were extremely valuable in terms of SEO.
With this in mind, Borker began to harass customers in hopes that they would be inspired to post reviews about how awful it was to do business with him. Borker even went so far as to threaten death and sexual assault to his customers, and at one point sent a customer a picture of their apartment building and suggested that he “knew where they lived.”
A few days after the Times published the article on Borker’s sketchy business practices, Google announced that it had changed its search algorithm so that “bad businesses” were no longer lauded in search results. Google refused to disclose details of the change, suggesting that such details would allow more unscrupulous business owners to game the system.
Borker was arrested on December 6, and released on April 6 on a $1 million bond. Borker was confined to his home, barred from the Internet, and had his phone use restricted. Borker was also required to hire a security guard–at a cost of $1000 per day–to ensure that he was complying with the judge’s orders.
Prosecutors expect Borker will spend at least five years in prison, if not six and a half. Borker’s lawyer has a more optimistic view, and expects the sentence to be between one year and 18 months.