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Scammers Alive And Well In The Health Blogosphere

On January 28th I exposed the tactics of a certain unscrupulous company called Wellsphere. In a nutshell, they lured unsuspecting bloggers to join their network with a series of flattering emails from their Chief Medical Officer, Geoff Rutledge, M.D., Ph.D. The emails suggest that by being featured at Wellsphere, the bloggers would receive higher visibility and more traffic to their blogs. In reality, when the bloggers signed up to join, they unwittingly gave Wellsphere the right to take all of their blogs’ content, aggregate it on Wellsphere and then SELL it to Health Central (without compensating the bloggers a penny). The bloggers whom I spoke with did not notice any increase in their traffic – in fact, since their entire RSS feed was featured at Wellsphere, readers had no incentive to click back to their blogs.

Beyond the shady blog-scraping practices, Wellsphere encouraged bloggers to answer medical questions (regardless of their qualifications to do so) on their site. Health Central’s tagline, by the way, is “trusted, reliable, and up to date health information.” In return, they were offered a “Maven” badge which suggested that they had special authority to do so. One blogger pointed out how unsafe this was:

I’m supposed to be a “Health Maven” in the “General Medicine” group … and I got my qualifications from …. a Cracker Jacks box? Wellsphere made it appear as if I was someone knowledgeable in General Medicine, and no one was checking in to make sure I wasn’t killing someone with bad advice! Dude! In fact, most of the questions which were sent in weren’t being answered at all, or they were being answered by numbos like me. Answers from real medical professionals were meager. Imagine if the readers took Wellsphere seriously, and actually trusted our replies!!!

When I first posted the story, about 60 commenters relayed horror stories of how misled they were by Wellsphere, and how their content was not removed from the site in a timely manner when they asked to cease participation. Twitter lit up with more disgruntlement. I figured that Health Central would have issued an apology to the bloggers who felt betrayed, but instead Chris Schroeder, CEO
of Health Central, had this to say,

“Most bloggers are happy about Wellsphere.”

In an early announcement to the media about the acquisition of Wellsphere, Mr. Schroeder revealed that the blogger content would allow Health Central “to more effectively monetize their advertising” because bloggers tend to come back regularly to the site, thus increasing advertising page views.

The Plot Thickens

So after doing my part to make bloggers aware of what was happening – and let them decide if they’d like to remain members of Wellsphere – I decided to move on. However, yesterday a member of Better Health was sent a flattering email from Dr. Geoff Rutledge inviting her to join Wellsphere. This same blogger had received similar emails over a year ago, had joined Wellsphere, figured out that there was NO value proposition for her or her blog, and requested that her content be removed.  Now many months later she receives this email:

Hi XXX,

I’m writing to give you an update on Wellsphere’s HealthBlogger Network, and tell you about the new and greatly increased benefits of participation in the network. My name is Dr. Geoff Rutledge I’m a board certified physician who practiced and taught at Stanford and Harvard medical schools before joining Wellsphere. Wellsphere is the fastest-growing online health platform and is now one of the Top 5 consumer health websites, helping nearly 5 million people each month find health and healthy-living information and support.

Several months ago, I discovered your blog while searching for the best health bloggers online. After reviewing your writing, I thought your blog would be a great addition to the network, and sent you an invitation to join in the Nursing community.  Since then, the benefits of participation have grown dramatically as the network has grown to nearly 2,000 bloggers, we’ve introduced a variety of blogger widgets and status badges, and the number of visitors has skyrocketed to 5 million per month and we are still growing fast!

Once you agree to participate, we republish the articles you have already written for your blog (with links back to your blog), so there is no extra work for you to do. Your articles will appear in the Nursing community, and on all the search results and WellPages (topic pages) where your articles match a relevant topic or search query. 

I would like to emphasize that YOU will RETAIN FULL COPYRIGHT TO YOUR WRITING <image001.png> the only right you give us is to republish your content on Wellsphere for AS LONG AS YOU CHOOSE. These terms are spelled out clearly on the Health Blogger Network Participation Agreement at http://www.wellsphere.com/bloggerSignUp.s?email=er_kim@emergiblog.com

When you participate in the HealthBlogger Network, you’ll be eligible for a variety of badges that will recognize you for your achievements and leadership in your fields, including the Top Health Blogger and Health Maven badges (we’ll send you information about how to become a Health Maven, if you choose to do so). Here are some of the options for these badges that are available to you.

<image002.jpg> <image003.jpg> <image004.png>
You will also be able to choose among a set of custom tailored widgets that you can post free of charge on your blog and provide your readers a richer experience on your site:
· Health Knowledge Finder - comprehensive health search results for your blog. See http://www.wellsphere.com/healthKnowledgeFinder.s
· Wellevation - motivational and inspirational quotes. See http://www.wellsphere.com/wellWidgets.s
· WellTips - simple, bite-sized pearls of wisdom on topics ranging from weight loss to running to yoga, and more
See http://www.wellsphere.com/wellWidgets.s
· Wellternatives - healthy menu options at your favorite restaurant! Gives your readers the nutrition information for restaurant menu items, and a Wellternative – a healthier dish that is similar, but better for you. See http://www.wellsphere.com/wellWidgets.s

Here are some examples of what your blogging colleagues have said about their experience after joining the Health Blogger Network:
Since joining Wellsphere I’ve had numerous opportunities to accomplish my goals for Mommy Motivation, not to mention that I’ve increased my traffic by at least 40%. … Thanks, Wellsphere. - Cathy Tibbles

Joining the HealthBlogger Network was a great move. I look forward to getting the great comments and feedback each time I post and knowing that there’s a growing community there all interested in the same areas. The traffic to the site has increased, too! It’s well worth getting on board if you can. Jeff A.

“My involvement in HBN has been great in that I’ve seen more traffic to my own site.” – Brett Blumenthal

“There are many benefits to becoming a health blogger. Wellsphere offers great promotion and a friendly atmosphere. It allows you to show your talents and share your insight with others. It has been a pleasure being a part of the Wellsphere community. - Lisa Robertson

Here is what some of the members have told us about the benefits of the badges and widgets:
“The badges give my blog credibility. My traffic has steadily increased since I added the awards badges from the People’s HealthBlogger Awards. I’ve also started a new related business that I’m advertising on my blog.  The increased traffic may help me make a living while I help care for my mother.” – Jacqueline Jones

“Honestly, I have to say that the widgets I have (Top Health Blogger and Health Maven) help immensely in terms of credibility.  ….  I have allowed very few widgets on my blog – only the two Wellsphere ones, because it helps me, but even more important, it helps my readers find what I believe to be the BEST health site on the net.  Thanks for all that you do!” -  Lynette Sheppard

We invite you to join the HealthBlogger Network and experience these benefits for yourself. All you have to do is go to the Health Blogger Network Registration Page at http://www.wellsphere.com/bloggerSignUp.s?email=er_kim@emergiblog.com , confirm your email and blog URL, and select a password! We’ll do the work to connect your blog and begin republishing your articles for Wellsphere’s millions of visitors to read. Of course, you are also welcome to participate as a user on Wellsphere, interact with other HealthBloggers and Wellsphere members, and take advantage of the many features and functions of the site. 

If you have any questions about how this works, or would like to chat about it, please feel free to give me a call at (650) 345-2100, or send me email to Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com

Cheers,
Geoff

Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
http://www.wellsphere.com
Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com

I am astonished that these emails are still being sent, and the bold faced lie at the beginning (“Several months ago I discovered your blog…”) is truly disturbing.

I personally feel that these emails are now bordering on harassment, and that something needs to be done to protect bloggers from continued contact with Wellsphere.

As a point of interest, I NEVER joined Wellsphere, yet here is a screen shot from their website, featuring blog posts about me, my headshot, and my YouTube videos of recent TV interviews where I was a guest.

wellspherescreenshot

What do you think should be done next?


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13 Responses to “Scammers Alive And Well In The Health Blogosphere”

  1. Gianna says:

    I'm not surprised Health Central is saying nothing. I've never liked anything they do and any site that relies so heavily on pharma funding is suspect in my book

    Also those “badges” from the site and hideous and tacky. I would never put them on my blog even if they were a legitimate site…

    Lastly, tradtional docs have never helped me and only made me sicker across the board with several chronic conditions. It's wasn't until I researched alternative medicine and turned to my peers that my personal healing began, so I can't share the disdain for allowing educated people without a degree to share their opinions with the proper caveats.

    I've healed, yes, healed several conditions that are thought to only be manageable life long issues generally with toxic drugs—instead I found natural means that cured me.

    And it wasn't with the help of docs it was with the help of peers. Granted it takes intelligence and discrimination to know who to listen to and where to look for more answers after you get pointers in the right direction, but I won't ever trust docs implicitly again.

  2. Gianna says:

    I'm not surprised Health Central is saying nothing. I've never liked anything they do and any site that relies so heavily on pharma funding is suspect in my book

    Also those “badges” from the site and hideous and tacky. I would never put them on my blog even if they were a legitimate site…

    Lastly, tradtional docs have never helped me and only made me sicker across the board with several chronic conditions. It's wasn't until I researched alternative medicine and turned to my peers that my personal healing began, so I can't share the disdain for allowing educated people without a degree to share their opinions with the proper caveats.

    I've healed, yes, healed several conditions that are thought to only be manageable life long issues generally with toxic drugs—instead I found natural means that cured me.

    And it wasn't with the help of docs it was with the help of peers. Granted it takes intelligence and discrimination to know who to listen to and where to look for more answers after you get pointers in the right direction, but I won't ever trust docs implicitly again.

  3. Irv Arons says:

    I write an online Journal that is meant purely to provide information to both the public and medical professionals, particularly as regards age-related macular degeneration and new ophthalmic lasers for treating a variety of ophthalmic ailments.

    I do not use ads on my site, and decided that more exposure was better than less, so signed up with Wellsphere. I just did a search on Wellsphere for macular degeneration, and my blog is featured, describing me as a PRO.

    The way I look at it, any way that I can have more people find my blog, the better.

    I am not looking to make money from it, only to be a provider of useful information.

    Irv Arons

    Irv Arons' Journal

  4. #1 Dinosaur says:

    Funny; I just got that same email again. I never joined them the first time, though, and luckily, a cursory search of the site doesn't mention me or my blog at all.

    What can we do? (Hell, the blog “Science Based Medicine” can't even manage to get rid of the altie ads on its sidebar.)

  5. Jeanne says:

    Dr. Val,

    The audacity Wellsphere has is appalling.

    This past week, I realized that Wellsphere had posted my copyrighted videos on its site without my permission. I immediately emailed Chris Schroeder, CEO of Health Central.

    My first email to him went out at 10:18 EST on 3/23. (While he replied quickly – within 20 minutes – the videos didn't get removed as quickly as I would have hoped). The videos were confirmed as removed from Wellsphere's site at 3:41 pm 3/24.

    In between those two emails (mine going out on 3/23 and the final one I got the next afternoon), I had numerous contacts with Mr. Schroeder and with Lucie Leblois, Vice President, Site Product and Marketing HealthCentral.com. I also received a solo email from Dr. Geoff Rutledge after SPECIFICALLY asking not to be contacted by him. (I ignored his email and continued on in my communications with Mr. Schroeder and Ms. Leblois.

    The bottom line is that I never gave Wellsphere permission to post any of my videos on their site, my videos are copyrighted, and I wasted lots of time and energy this week interacting with Health Central (14 emails by my count) about getting my videos removed from the Wellsphere site… time I'll never get back.

    It saddens me greatly that Wellsphere continues to conduct itself this way.

    Jeanne

  6. sherrillynn says:

    I'm not a litigious person, but it seems to me Wellsphere deserves to be sued. Class action… ?

  7. Irv Arons says:

    Just to let you know that I've now registered in case anyone wishes to find me.

  8. This scares me, if blogs are to continue to be taken seriously by the public at large there needs to be more transparency and trust.

  9. This scares me, if blogs are to continue to be taken seriously by the public at large there needs to be more transparency and trust.

  10. Forget about a doctor. Is there a lawyer in the house? Let me know if you hear of a class action lawsuit.

  11. Forget about a doctor. Is there a lawyer in the house? Let me know if you hear of a class action lawsuit.

  12. Martha says:

    As a RN x 27 years this is an OUTRAGE on all levels. Scumbags!

  13. Martha says:

    As a RN x 27 years this is an OUTRAGE on all levels. Scumbags!

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