Earlier today, as everyone now knows, a press release went out announcing the acquisition of WiFi provider ICOA by Google for $400 million. Though it was suspiciously short and lacked any quotes from company officials most people took it as official and ran with it.
I was prepared to write something as well when our news editor Barry Schwartz expressed skepticism, did some digging and found out the release was false. Many of the familiar, leading tech blogs (and even AP) went out immediately with quick stories and analysis pieces about what it would mean for Google’s fledgling ISP efforts. I received a couple of reporter inquiries about its significance.
It took a little time to figure out that the whole episode was a fake and that it was probably someone trying to pump the stock. The fraudulent release appears to have originated in Aruba according to ICOA. It’s an episode of securities fraud likely perpetrated by someone who owns ICOA shares, which trade on the OTC market.
In the rush to be first with tech-news coverage many outlets simply assumed the story was real without confirming the validity of the press release. Sometime thereafter many writers started checking with Google, which denied the story. ICOA also denied the story.
ICOA CEO George Strouthopoulos told the Wall Street Journal there never had been any acquisition talks with Google but that he would love to be acquired and would take a lot less than the alleged $400 million purchase price.
Danny captured screens with Google prominently showing the false story. However Bing did better; it featured a CNET piece showing that the item was a fake.
In the past traditional journalists would have sought interviews with people at one or both companies and would have confirmed the acquisition and other details before publishing the story. But in the limited-fact-checking world of online news coverage that traditional diligence doesn’t take place very often anymore. It takes too much time.
The combination of the race to be first and limited staffing leads to the confusion of what happened this morning, and the embarrassment of retractions. (Had Barry not expressed doubt I would be in that camp as well.) Notwithstanding this episode, however, it’s unlikely anything will change.
Online news is now playing a game of speed, page views and quantity over quality.
Postscript: Many hours after the fact PRWeb has issued a statement about the ICOA matter:
PRWeb transmitted a press release for ICOA that we have since learned was fraudulent. The release was not issued or authorized by ICOA. Vocus reviews all press releases and follows an internal process designed to maintain the integrity of the releases we send out every day. Even with reasonable safeguards identity theft occurs, on occasion, across all of the major wire services. We have removed the fraudulent release and turned the matter over to the proper authorities for further investigation.
Clearly the review was perfunctory if it happened at all. A selection of other dubious releases on PRWeb include How to Buy Drugs – Lowest Price Viagra, Buy Levitra Viagra – Online Pill Store and Total Penis Health Discusses Differences Between Penis Extenders, and Breakthrough Erectile Dysfunction Remedy Debuts at Dallas Anti-Aging Institute.
Postscript 2: See our related story on Search Engine Land, How PRWeb Helps Distribute Crap Into Google & News Sites