The Misuse of European Privacy Laws Hits OCCRP’s Italian Member Center

Published: 27 March 2023

Schermata 2023-03-27 alle 14.56.26

(Photo: Screenschot, IrpiMedia)

By Raffaele Angius and Lorenzo Bagnoli (IrpiMedia)

Google briefly removed from its search engine an IrpiMedia article about a company that can be hired to “clean up” a client’s online reputation, notifying the investigative outlet and OCCRP member center that the text violated Europe’s privacy law, known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

“As a result of a request made under European data protection laws, Google can no longer show one or more of your site's pages in Google Search results,” the automated notice sent to IrpiMedia on Thursday said.

The email did not explain who the plaintiff was, nor did it mention the query which won’t show the article in the list of results. It did mention the article, though.

Ironically, it was an investigation about Eliminalia, a reputation management company that has allegedly filed bogus GDPR complaints on behalf of its clients in order to beautify a Google search about them.

The investigation is based on thousands of leaked files that were obtained by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with OCCRP and other partners. It explains how - aside from spurious and sometimes fraudulent legal complaints - Eliminalia has used an array of underhanded tactics to stifle criticism of its clients, from intimidating journalists to churning out fake news.

Among its 1,400 clients that have used the company to “clean up” their reputations, IrpiMedia found dozens that have been suspected or convicted of everything from drug trafficking to fraud.

Two prominent businessmen, Didac Sanchez and Enea Trevisan, pioneered the industry of web reputation and they did it out of personal interest.

Sanchez is the founder of Eliminalia, a company described by OCCRP and IrpiMedia as a reputation laundromat for criminals.

Spanish investigators suspect Eliminalia’s hidden owner is Jose Maria Hill Prados, a notary convicted of sexually abusing Sanchez as a minor.

Enea Trevisan, a businessman convicted for bankruptcy fraud in 2015, has been Sanchez’s Italian business partner until 2018, when he set up his own web reputation agency: Ealixir.

He brought to Eliminalia many Italian customers but then filed a lawsuit against Sanchez over the ownership of the brand and the implementation of the cleaning tactics of bad online search results. Trevisan falsely claimed that his company is listed on Nasdaq.

IrpiMedia reported also on other Italian business partners of Eliminalia that were named in the leak. Among them are ReputationUp and Digitallex, two web reputation agencies that appeared after Trevisan left Eliminalia.

The owners and the managers of those companies were Eliminalia’s customers before becoming its business partners, according to the leaked dataset.

Andrea Baggio, ReputationUp’s CEO, told IrpiMedia he "decided to stop any kind of relationship as soon as we realized that their way of operating was not congruent with our best practices.”

Because of the request made under GDPR, the query “Enea Trevisan'' didn’t produce any IrpiMedia articles in Google News for at least 24 hours. At the bottom of the page, Google noted that “Some results may have been removed under European data protection legislation.”

Given the anonymity of the complaint, IrpiMedia has no way of knowing who filed the removal request but asked both Trevisan and Google for comment. Neither responded but the IrpiMedia article reappeared in search results on Friday afternoon.