BeautifulPeople dupes media with Shrek virus publicity stunt

Filed Under: Malware

BeautifulPeople.com, the dating website which claims to only accept members who pass an attractiveness rating, is claiming in the media that it has been hit by a computer virus.

According to a press release issued by the website, it was hit by a virus called "Shrek" that made it possible for "30,000 'ugly' people to invade the site."

Beautiful People website

The story has been widely reported by the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, Fox News, The Daily Mail and many other media outlets.

Ermm.. is it April Fool's Day? My suspicion is that this is more likely to be a publicity stunt by BeautifulPeople than to have any basis in truth, and the world's media are falling for it.

Here's what Greg Hodge, MD of BeautifulPeople, had to say in the press release:

"We got suspicious when tens of thousands of new members were accepted over a six-week period, many of whom were no oil painting."

"We responded immediately, repairing the damage from the 'Shrek Virus' and putting every new member back into the rating module for a legitimate and democratic vote. The result is that we have lost over 30,000 recent members.

"We have sincere regret for the unfortunate people who were wrongly admitted to the site and who believed, albeit for a short while, that they were beautiful. It must be a bitter pill to swallow, but better to have had a slice of heaven then never to have tasted it at all."

It's a fantastic piece of chicanery, of course, designed to boost awareness of the dating website, get them many thousands of pounds of free publicity with little risk of damage to their reputation.

The website explains that it hasn't needed to inform any computer security firms about the malware as it is being "investigated internally", and a "former employee.. placed the virus before leaving the team" and "despite wreaking havoc with the application process, member privacy and security was never breached."

Phew! So, lots of publicity for the website but nothing for current or future members to worry about then. How convenient!

The company has certainly run imaginative PR stunts in the past, such as when it ran a campaign making members re-apply if they had "let themselves go" over the Christmas festivities. The dating website's PR agency has been upfront that that initiative was designed to:

"provoke media attention with a controversial press release... to attract more hits and applications, [and] to generate extensive global coverage."

Sure enough, it won them a "Best Global Campaign" award at the CIPR Awards in 2010.

My bet is that BeautifulPeople has just come up with its latest publicity stunt - and you know what? It's worked.

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22 Responses to BeautifulPeople dupes media with Shrek virus publicity stunt

  1. SecTar · 1136 days ago

    Such publicity stunts can also give you some unwanted attention. They'd wish for the "Shrek virus" after a visit from LulzSec.

    • haley · 1134 days ago

      Please, Please, let them get a visit from LulzSec!!!! That would be truly BEAUTIFUL!! LOL.

  2. theanticon · 1136 days ago

    Yeah, it worked. And you've contributed, Sophos.

    • Ha. :)

      So your preference would have been for us to keep quiet about it whilst The Guardian, Fox News, the BBC, The Daily Telegraph, The Register, PC Advisor and others spread bogus news about a computer virus? ;-)

      (and, by the way, the news is spreading in the non-English speaking media too)

      Great publicity for BeautifulPeople, although some may be nervous of believing anything from them again. This kind of stunt might be okay on April Fool's day, but in June?

      • haley · 1134 days ago

        I don't really think it's all that great publicity. Doing something like this a few times, sure, maybe...but after a bit, it gets old, and makes them look so ugly that I'm sure they'll lose traffic. I almost feel bad for people who would sign up into something like that...after all, if they're so beautiful, and not just faking their pics, why are they not out and about dating in public? And even if they are, why would anyone want to meet another person so shallow...how can you base any relationship on beauty alone, knowing that if anything happens down the road (ravages of childbirth, a disfiguring accident, breast cancer that requires a mastectomy) they'll be gone in a second? So yeah, I find it sad, and not at all appealing.

  3. Marlena · 1136 days ago

    Of course you are right, Graham. I don't mind when the press is fooled but you are also right that it might hit Beautifulpeople as we won't trust any news realeases from them

  4. Yo Momma · 1136 days ago

    Haha love The Register's comeback!

    "We're obliged to Graham Cluley from Sophos who emailed to suggest The Shrek virus is just a PR stunt by BeautifulPeople.

    "Surely you don't think the 'Shrek virus' story is true?" he protested.

    Hmmm. If we're talking black helicopters, we might equally conclude that Cluley's intervention was an attempt to get Sophos's name attached to this story, in which case we're in danger of being sucked into a conspiracy feedback loop.

    We'll leave it to readers to decide who's got their finger on the pulse of truth here."

    • Yeah, that made me laugh too.

      They're real wags at El Reg.

      BTW, I've emailed and left a voicemail at BeautifulPeople's PR agency as I had some questions. They haven't got back to me. Maybe they don't accept calls from men who don't look like Brad Pitt.

    • arum_lily · 1135 days ago

      That would imply that they are intelligent which I very much doubt. If they had brains & personlity they wouldn`t need to join this site. They probably spend most of their time looking in the mirror.

  5. David Gerard · 1136 days ago

    Guardian falls to “BeautifulPeople” virus

    PAGE 3, Channel 5, Monday (N! News) — They were built for the publication of “actual news content,” where editors ruthlessly excluded churnalised press releases. But today a brain virus attacked and a hideous wave of bollocks flooded newspapers already losing a fortune.

    The virus was quickly named “BeautifulPeople.com” — after the website about how newsworthiness should not matter — as it attacked the mental software used to screen transparent bullshit, appearing to utterly disable it beyond recovery.

    Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, claimed the virus had also overrun the BBC, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, though it was difficult to tell in the latter case. He blamed it on “a disgruntled former journalist” who had decided to leave for twice the pay and considerably greater job security.

    The virus claims to have set up a helpline with counsellors on hand to help PR minions distressed by their rejection from the press.

    “We have to stick to our founding principles of only accepting actual news — that’s what our readers have paid for. We got suspicious when tens of thousands of new stories were printed and fell prey to Ben Goldacre in the first week,” Rusbridger told the pigeons in the park he was ranting at. “Spare change for a meal, guv? Haven’t had a glass of Bolly in three days.”

    When the Guardian is finally merged with Metro, Rusbridger plans to found a dating site for unemployed journalists, despite the dangers to the gene pool.

    (posted by me at newstechnica.com)

    • Charles · 1135 days ago

      I investigated it on the suspicion that it was a fake. I looked at profiles of people who were said to have been removed from the database. I rang the number that had been provided to our reporter of someone who had been removed - who was indeed an Australian woman living in California. Other sites (such as HuffPo) had different users who've been rejected. I spoke at length to the managing director. He said it's a former developer who planted some subtle malware aimed at harming the system.

      I couldn't find any details that didn't confirm the story. If you know of any, get in touch. Might be a better use of your time than the snarky stories, which are less funny on a screen than you thought they were when they were in your head.

      • Thanks Charles

        I'm not saying that they haven't rejected users, and they might have refunded some people's subscriptions.

        What I find hard to believe is the "virus" angle. Until BeautifulPeople submits that to someone in the legitimate security community I'm going to continue to call this a publicity stunt.

        They've got history of doing similar stunts, and I simply don't believe that there is a virus at the centre of this.

      • John Edward Taylor · 1135 days ago

        what charles means here is he got busted rewriting a pressrelease and doesnt want to be called out on it.

  6. Persemillion · 1136 days ago

    Who is the PR agency?

  7. David · 1136 days ago

    Apart from some below-the-line commenters at the Guardian, it seems everyone else was taken in by this story. -every- news link that I found from google that was remotely suspicious referenced your blog. kudos.

  8. dogfuccah · 1136 days ago

    Yes @ 1. Definitely sounds like something LulzSec would be interested in. In fact can't imagine why they haven't hit beautifulpeople already. All those saucy private photos and addresses would make a nice torrent.

  9. theresa · 1135 days ago

    does the director meet the beauty requirements? just asking..

  10. Amanda F. · 1135 days ago

    Wow...

    "We have sincere regret for the unfortunate people who were wrongly admitted to the site and who believed, albeit for a short while, that they were beautiful."

    Wow...they feel bad that these people are being told they aren't beautiful. I bet they would be feeling bad too, if they were told "you're not beautiful" by some stupid "rating" module.

    Just 'cause a person has a gorgeous face and body, it doesn't mean they have a beautiful mind nor spirit.

  11. D. Rohn · 1135 days ago

    In a despicable lowbrow parody of itself, Beautiful People has produced something both offensive and haughty. Good show.

  12. alisia · 1135 days ago

    Seriously how superficial is that. A site that only admits people based on their appearance. Its not enough that in this day, and age most people suffer from bulima and anorexia simply because society makes them feel that they are not beautiful unless they look a certain way. Just because one may appear to be attractive on the outside doesn't necessarily mean they are beautiful on the inside. Its sites like this that should be taken down.

  13. Rick Cunningham · 1133 days ago

    They may be beautiful people but there is a definite odour about them.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.