A hoaxer this week managed to fool some of the world’s most respected news organizations into reporting that Internet Explorer users are “dumber” than users of other browsers, and it was a Whois search that eventually blew the story open.
Dozens of outlets – including CNN, the BBC and Forbes – fell for a story put out by a fake Canadian company called AptiQuant, which claimed to have proved scientifically that IE users have below-average IQs.
AptiQuant said in a press release that it had offered free online IQ tests to over 100,000 people and then correlated the scores with the browser used to take the test. IE users, it said, were found to have much lower IQ scores than everybody else.
The media rapidly picked up the meme and ran with it. Headlines such as “If You’re Reading This On Internet Explorer, You’re Probably Dumb” and “Dumb people use Internet Explorer, survey says” were among the hundreds around the world that AptiQuant’s news generated.
But the story was completely bogus, as a simple Whois search could have revealed in an instant.
After the initial wave of reports, readers started doing a bit of digging. Most of AptiQuant’s web site content, they discovered, had been copied and pasted from a French company called Central Test. Even the photographs of AptiQuant’s non-existent staff had been copied.
But here’s the kicker: Whois shows that the domain name aptiquant.com was only registered on July 14 this year. That’s in contrast to the web site itself, which had content claiming to date back to 2005.
A developer named Tarandeep Gill has now confessed to being behind the hoax. He said that he just wanted to highlight what a pain IE 6.0 can be to support when building web sites.
“We are really surprised that it took so long for people to figure it out, a mere Whois on the domain could have revealed it all,” Gill wrote.
To make things worse, some of the news sites now reporting the hoax have claimed that Gill lives in San Francisco, whereas he in fact lives near Vancouver, Canada – as the Whois record clearly shows!
It’s not just the media that could benefit from making Whois part of their standard research toolkit. Just as reporters were fooled by a hoaxer telling them what they wanted to hear, there are a lot of bad guys out there making “too good to be true” offers who have less frivolous intentions.
If you find yourself on a web site that looks a bit fishy, Whois should be your first port of call.