A report issued last week that claimed users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer have lower IQs than those who run rival browsers was a hoax.
In a blog on a fake company's website, the perpetrator of the scam admitted the whole thing was a put-on.
"There is no company called AptiQuant, and no such survey was ever done," the blog read. "This was all meant to be a lighthearted joke."
No name accompanied the blog but it directed users to the comparison shopping website, AtCheap.com. Someone named Tarandeep Gill has been listed in earlier AtCheap press releases as the company's contact.
But the French firm whose website was pillaged to bolster the bogus report may not find anything funny in the prank.
"We only found about this today, after journalists asked us for information," said Patrick Leguide, the founder and president of Central Test, a French firm that develops psychometric tests for recruiters, career guidance counselors, career managers and corporate staff development teams.
Wednesday, media outlets including the BBC noted similarities between Central Test's website and that of AptiQuant, the company revealed today as bogus.
Last week, AptiQuant released a report claiming Internet Explorer users had lower IQs on average than people who ran other browsers, such as Google's Chrome or Mozilla's Firefox. ApiQuant's report was picked up by numerous blogs and publications, and created a stir of controversy, as is often the case when followers of Microsoft and its competitors face off.
Much of that hullabaloo stemmed from the headline AptiQuant used to describe its report: "Is Internet Explorer For The Dumb? A New Study Suggests Exactly That."
AptiQuant, which billed itself as a Canadian company, raised suspicions because its website was registered just three weeks ago, according to WHOIS records. Further probing by reporters then discovered that portions of the AptiQuant website had been lifted from that of Central Test's, including personnel photos and client claims. Computerworld could not find a listing in the Canadian government's business registry for AptiQuant today.
"It was strange to see my photograph with someone else's name," said Leguide in an interview Tuesday.
On the AptiQuant site, Leguide's photograph was labeled "Leonard Howard," whose bio claimed he had "master degrees in both Cognitive Psychology and Business Management."
On Central Test's site, Leguide's bio reads: " Master degrees in both Cognitive Psychology (Paris V) and Business Management (IAE, Paris Sorbonne)."
Photos of several other members of the Central Test executive team were also repurposed on the AptiQuant site, where the names had been changed. Graphic designer Rianala Randriambololana of Central Test became, for instance, Kumar Ramarangranathan on AptiQuant.
In a statement posted on its website, Central Test denied any connection to AptiQuant.
"Central Test noticed the fraudulent use of its identity by AptiQuant, a Canadian company and deny any direct or indirect link with the above mentioned company," the statement read.
Leguide reiterated that denial, but was unsure what his company would, or even could, do about the identity theft.
"We don't know what we can do," said Leguide, adding that he wasn't sure whether Central Test would seek legal redress or contact local authorities.
Even the motivation of those behind AptiQuant and its IE IQ claims puzzled Leguide. "Maybe it was someone who has something against Microsoft, someone who doesn't like Microsoft," he said.
The AptiQuant blog admitted to lifting content from Central Test, and said it was removing it. "Apologies to Central Test for copying their material," said the blog.
It also claimed that it had created the ruse to "Create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6 and how it is pulling back innovation."
Microsoft, which has campaigned for the death of the decade-old browser for two years, declined to comment on the hoax or the IE6 angle.
Although corporate identity theft is common -- both in phishing attacks and to promote counterfeit goods -- something like this is very unusual, said Te Smith, the head of marketing for MarkMonitor, a San Francisco-based firm that protects corporate brands and reputations on the Internet.
"We have seen scam artists lift sites wholesale, or take advantage of elements, like logos and photography," said Smith in an interview today.
Most of corporate identity theft is done for e-commerce purposes by sellers of fake products, said Smith. "They take the look and feel of a website to lend an aura of credibility," she said. "Counterfeiters will do anything to line their pockets."
Companies like Central Test do have legal avenues they can pursue when they uncover evidence of identity or brand theft, Smith continued, including suing the perpetrator for copyright or trademark infringement. "At best this is an annoyance [to Central Test], but it could damage its reputation and its bottom line," Smith argued. "They might feel the pain."
Leguide said he didn't think the AptiQuant theft would harm his company's reputation, but acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. "I don't know how we, or any company, could have avoided this kind of identity theft," said Leguide. "Anyone can do something like this to any company."
MarkMonitor's Smith said that her firm does help corporations in similar straits. "We would work with the ISP and the domain registrars to get the site taken down," Smith said.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story, "Mastermind Behind Fake Internet Explorer Study Steps Forward" was originally published by Computerworld.