Is HomeopathyPlus planning to ditch Australia?

Just over a month ago Homeopathy Plus an outfit selling fake medicine was punished by the Federal Court of Australia and ordered to pay  $115,000 in fines plus the legal costs of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in addition to Fran Sheffield owner of Hompeopathy Plus being personally fined $23,000.

It recently came to my attention that Homeopathy Plus has quietly migrated its website from the Australian domain to the international .com I don't know the exact reason for this, but in my experience a common way for shonks to try and evade government regulators is by moving or at least pretending (often poorly) to move beyond the jurisdiction of their perceived foe. Unlike a which must be tied to the registrant by either an ABN or Trademark a .com can be registered to anybody, including a third party who acts as a proxy to hide the identity of the real owner.

Given that the court order was worded as

The First Respondent and the Second Respondent cease publishing and remove from
the website permanently
I can only infer that this is the reason for the domain name switch to is a means to try and circumvent the law.

Over the past 5 years that I've been writing this blog I have seen many creative and imaginative tactics for cheating and scamming the public, harassing critics into silence, dodging legal obligations and deceiving the media. Never underestimate the creativity of imaginative assholes.


Homeopathy Plus gets spanked by the Federal Court

Homeopathy Plus, a sham operation that promotes fake medicine has been trying to fend off the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) since 2013. The ACCC took legal action against HomeopathyPlus for making fraudulent claims on its website about the 'benefits' of Homeopathy.

After a lengthy court battle the verdict is finally out and it's bad news for the fraudsters at HomeopathyPlus. Not only have they been ordered to permanently remove articles from their website:

But they have also been fined $115,000 to be paid within 30 days of the order while Fran Sheffield the owner of HomeopathyPlus has been fined $23,000 to be paid within 90 days. Additionally the respondents/frauds must also pay the ACCCs legal costs which are unlikely to be a small sum.

However the real win from this case will be the aftermath. Now that the Federal Court has examined claims about the effectiveness of Homeopathy and found the evidence lacking it will set a precedent for future action against scammers who try and peddle this fake medicine.

The First Respondent and Second Respondent be restrained, whether by themselves, their agents, servants or howsoever otherwise, for a period of five years from making any statements or representations, in trade or commerce, in connection with the supply or possible supply of Homeopathic Treatments or in connection with the promotion of the supply of Homeopathic Treatments, to the effect that Homeopathic Treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the Vaccine for the prevention of whooping cough, for so long as:

A: there is no reasonable basis, in the sense of an adequate foundation, in medical science to enable the First Respondent and the Second Respondent to state that Homeopathic Treatments are safe and effective as an alternative to the Vaccine for the prevention of whooping cough; and
B: the Vaccine is the only treatment approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for inclusion on the National Immunisation Program for the prevention of whooping cough.
-Federal Court of Australia

So although this case focused specifically on the Whooping Cough Vaccine the fact that there is now a finding like this in a court of law combined with the ACCCs ability to recover their costs, means that it is both economically and legally viable for regulators to begin cracking down on this type of sham operation.

I look forward to the fallout from this ruling. It should give the pseudo-science community the shakeup it deserves.

Download: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission vs Homeopathy Plus


Australian Vaccination Network crashes and burns.

The infamous public health menace Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network more commonly known as the Australian Vaccination Network has just submitted financial reports to the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading and the news is fantastic, at least for those of us who value the health and wellbeing of the community.

See: Documents Held by Fair Trading 7 September 2015

In 2009 a small but dedicated group of concerned citizens formed a Facebook group called "Stop the Australian Vaccination Network" after the organisation embarked on a campaign of abuse and vilification against a family who had just lost lost their four week old daughter to whooping cough.

See: The Australian Vaccination Network, abuses and vilifies grieving families. 

For the past six years Stop the AVN and its supporters have fought a relentless campaign to hold the AVN accountable for the lies and fear mongering used to scare parents away from vaccinating their children. The responses from the AVN and its supporters has been highly aggressive with abuse, harassment, stalking and death-threats being standard modis operandi of the anti-vaccination movement. We have even witnessed anti-vaxxers plotting to visit the home address of a young woman who criticised a prominent member of the Anti-vaccination movement. The AVN has also filed lawsuits against critics and filed official complains with the press-council against journalists who report on the organisation in an unfavorable light.

However despite such aggressive opposition we are continuing to win or campaign to shut down the AVN. The lastest figures show they are effectivly on life support. From an annual income of $350,000 in 2007 to just $21,000 today. They have been reduced from a registered charity that the media used to turn to as an authoritative source on vaccination information to a paranoid group of fringe lunatics on Facebook who the media now vocally condemns as such.

Graph by Dr Matthew Berryman

Not only have the AVN taken the financial hit but their membership is also in rapid decline.

Graph by Dr Matthew Berryman

Download: Excel Spreadsheet of Income Expenses and Donations here.

So although the organisation still exists, and its likely that we will never totally eradicate it the small group of concerned citizens (Now 15,724 people on Facebook) has made a heavy impact against what was once a David and Goliath battle to bring down the nations most formidable health menace.

More documents relating the the AVNs finance can be found: here.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

Ad-blocking is essential for your privacy and security on the web.

Adblocking software has been in the news quite a bit recently due to their increasing popularity.

Guillermo Beltrà spends a lot of time surfing the web.

Yet like many avid Internet users, Mr. Beltrà hates the annoying pop-up advertisements that litter many websites. “It’s just very cumbersome,” he said.

So like a growing number of people, Mr. Beltrà, a Spaniard who works for a consumer protection organization in Brussels, decided to block them by downloading software for his desktop browser that removed any online advertising from his daily Internet activity.

While he acknowledged that advertising was often the primary source of income for many websites, Mr. Beltrà said he remained wary of how much data companies were collecting on his online activities. -Mark Scott, New York Times, Blog

I have long advocated the blocking of advertising network because while many user find advertisements "Annoying" there is a far more sinister side to advertising that marketers would rather you didn't know about.

Unknown to many users is the fact that many advertising networks embed spyware that is designed to track you across the Internet with every website you visit. They do this by embedding trackers into the advertisement that your browser then loads whenever you vist Website X using Advertising Network Z. Now when you visit Website Y who just happens to be using Advertising Network Z you are instantly identified as the person who visited Website X earlier.

But the thing that surprises most people is just how many trackers an otherwise innocent website may harbour. Let's take a quick sample; I am using the browser extension Ghostery to show detected trackers in the purple box bottom right. (Click Images to Enlarge them.)

So CNN has 18 Trackers and The Daily Telegraph has 26 Trackers setup to betray their readers privacy, and these are only the trackers that Ghostery is able to detect.

Let's check the last site again with both trackers and advertisements blocked:

Now we can see that AdBlockPlus has removed 23 of the 26 trackers and all the advertisments. Ghostery has detected and blocked the three remaining trackers.

These are only two websites on the Internet that I have chosen to demo for no particular reason. There is nothing abnormal about the behaviour of these sites, it is now a common practice for website operators to install malware (spyware) into websites for commercial gain because there is a lot of money to be made in violating your privacy.

It wasn't always like this. Advertising didn't used to involve malicious action towards the end user. Although advertisements have always been annoying it is only over the course of the past decade that they have become a specific threat that users need to block by default.

Fortunately there is a way to block most of these trackers. I highly recommend everybody install AdBlock Plus and Ghostery into their browser. Both programs are free and both will block trackers. Ghostery in particular will give you an alarming insight into just how many trackers are being used to invade your privacy. I have been using both programs for years and would not consider browsing the Internet without either of them.


Anti-vaccination political party loses Domain Name.

In recent weeks a group of anti-vaccination campaigners have attempted to start their own political party called the Involuntary Medication Objectors Party whose goal is to undermine public health initiatives. 

Recent so called No Jab, No Play, No Pay laws discriminating against parents who choose not to vaccinate their children have far reaching effects for the basic freedoms that we have enjoyed.
We object to the our elected representatives making and supporting laws that use financial coercion to compel struggling, loving, caring parents to vaccinate their children with questionable medication.
The injustice of the recent No Jab, No Pay law has motivated us to form a political party that will aggressively agitate for rescission of this undemocratic law. -Involuntary Medication Objectors Party

This party is a response to the Abbot Government "No Jab, No Pay" laws which closed a loophole that people have been using to claim benefits they aren't entitled to. Under this new law if parents want to claim a payment that has an immunisation criteria they must ensure that their children are vaccinated before they can receive the handout.

The party did have a website setup at until auDA the government organisation that administers the .au namespace received the following complaint.

The domain is registered to Misty Mountain Health and Institute Ltd, ABN 61097939672, so the domain name is clearly not (as required) an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant's names:
* Better Life Productions
* Misty Mountain Health Retreat, or
* Misty Mountain Aboriginal Healing Place.

Given it is being used to host a political party's web site, I fail to see how it's being used for domain monetisation, or otherwise closely and substantially connected to the registrant under the rules for that use in the guidelines. -Complainant

The registry is now reporting status: pendingDelete (Client requested policy delete)

As we have seen in the past Anti-vaccination campaigners have a psychotic determination to undermine public health. I have no doubt they will return after this setback, and we will be waiting when they do. Every victory against the Anti-vaccination movement is a victory for public health, and we are winning this fight.