A story about Brendan Battles (Computerworld) caught my attention recently and if it is true (which is quite possible), is quite sad. Apparently Brendan is up to his old tricks again and has been involved in spamming – this time using SMS – text spam.
I know Brendan probably more than anyone else in New Zealand because in mid 2006 I was involved in helping him to stay in New Zealand, effectively sponsoring him into the country around the time that Computerworld wrote about Brendan.
Brendan was looking for work and had a deadline before his visa expired. One of my companies employed him (actually NOT WDANZ, as Computerworld incorrectly headlined) and got to know him very well while I was setting up WDANZ. In the process of checking his past, I spoke to previous employers, researched his past business activities and got to know his side of the story. There is ALWAYS another side of the story, and the truth is often somewhere between two conflicting stories.
Essentially a lot of the 2006 hoo-ha was a media beatup, creating a story based on incorrect and partial information, and twisting facts to make a good read. Don’t get me started on THAT subject! My book “Lipstick on a Pig” covers that subject well with over 80 chapters revealing home truths that the mainstream media and culture of the day don’t want us to know.
There are a couple of points to take from this recent story though.
Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story
The first thing to note is that it is put together by Juha Saarinen, author of the original Computerworld beat-up that “exposed” Brendan in 2006. This first article talked about “Brendan Battles, notorious spammer”, and the thrust of the article was that Computerworld had tracked him down and “found Brendan” (Original Story). Juha made a big thing out of the fact that Brendan tried to deny who he was; tried to hide his identity and wouldn’t cooperate. Juha didn’t quite tell the full story and got an “interesting angle” on the facts.
According to Brendan, Juha phoned him and asked him aggressively “Are you Brendan Battles the notorious American spammer?” to which Brendan replied “No!” Well of course he would say that wouldn’t anyone? If he had said yes, the journo would have said, “Brendan Battles now admits to being a notorious spammer!”
Brendan’s response was not meaning “No you’ve got the wrong guy”, but “No I’m not a NOTORIUS anything!”
I have never seen Brendan deny who he is or what he has done in business. I too would have answered the same way. I would be thinking “Who the h*ll do you think you are talking to me like that?” As Brendan says – “I came to New Zealand because I love the country and want to live and work here. I used my real name. I’m not hiding. Where’s the coverup?”
And then the point about refusing to anwer questions – well, according to Brendan, he said the opposite to what Computerworld claimed. In fact he WAS happy to answer any question they wanted to ask him, but the interview would be conducted professionally where Computerworld would put written questions to Brendan and he would be happy to answer them.
I was even party to such conversations myself and witnessed the distorting of facts in order to juice-up and create a story. In another Computerworld article, Paul Brislen wrote “Battles attended a meeting at Computerworld’s request, but called off the interview, refusing to allow it to be recorded.” Implying that Brendan would not cooperate is extreme journalistic license. I introduced Brendan to Computerworld and witnessed Brendan make it perfectly clear that he WOULD answer questions but only in a professional situation, with written questions and written answers – not recorded in a casual off-the-cuff meeting like Computerworld wanted, just in order to “catch” him out. I’m actually with Brendan on this one.
I could go on and on about the whole thing revealing lots more “BS” but I won’t. I did an analysis of the orginal articles at the time and published it privately for WDANZ members, and from memory there were half a dozen misrepresentations including a couple of outright lies, but this is how some journalists work . . . a story that has a bit of scandal sells better than one that is otherwise flat. I’m very cautious to just lapping up any story when it comes to journalists, especially those with a track record of having an agenda!
With the introduction of the Anti-Spam act (actually called the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 UEMA), spamming is now illegal in New Zealand, and I would hope that if Brendan has broken the law, that the authorities act and that he pays the appropriate penalty if convicted.
The authorities are no fools. Obviously they will act on complaints from the public and then they will work with facts, seeking proof of illegal activities while investigating. I assume that with volume SMS messages they are likely to have had a complaint or two and will be on the case, one way or the other in due course.
They have strong relationships with law enforcement agencies in many countries and have the power to seize equipment, subpoena witnesses and generally do whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of the matter. I’m sure that they will and Brendan deserves everything they throw at him if he has broken the law.
My relationship with Brendan
I worked closely with Brendan during quite a challenging time in business. I found him to be a very talented individual with a depth of business and marketing experience that Kiwi business people lacked. He did have a pattern in business and personal life of “boom and bust” where he would put in extraordinary hours and commitment, and then burnout, or cool-off.
When I established WDANZ I appreciated Brendan’s support and guidance. It is pretty much true to say that WDANZ wouldn’t exist without his support behind the scenes. We got a bit of stick from some quarters because of his involvement working for me, but I am a man of my word and even if there was negative press, I knew about his past, had given him my word, and we pushed through with the working relationship as agreed. I explained this in more detail at the time (PDF).
Brendan and I went our separate ways in late 2006 after he spoke at the WDANZ conference, and I’ve had nothing much to do with him since. A few people keep me informed of what he has been up to, and he was a client of a guy I did some business with in 2008.
Yes, he most certainly did have a colourful career that included spamming in the early days. He was at one time listed as the eighth most prolific spammer world-wide and yes on one campaign I understand that there were a gazillion million emails sent in one day, but he had a lot of experience in many forms of marketing aside from what he insisted was in the early days perfectly legal “E-Mail marketing”. Some of the companies (and countries) he worked for, and the projects he worked on would surprise many. He is definitely not your stereotypical spammer, an incorrigible evil greedy slimey greasy-heared geek with two inch thick glasses and the personality of a paper bag that delights in hacking into others’ computers to break laws all over the world to make a personal fortune!
Like a lot of energetic talented people, I think that he struggles to recognise where the boundaries are but there is no excuse for not knowing the Anti-spam Act. As the DIA constantly say, it’s a very simple piece of legislation to read. You just can’t send unsolicited commercial messages by electronic means – end of story!
If Brendan has pushed the boundaries too far this time and has been SMS spamming, I will be sad for the guy, because with his past he’s a marked man, and there are some who will really enjoy bringing him down.
Despite what Computerworld said in 2006, up until this story, I am pretty sure that Brendan has been “clean” since he came to New Zealand and it is sad if this story runs true, but the long arm of the law will be handling this one.
As they say, watch this space!
UPDATE: There’s more