Anonymous Rattles A Chinese Web Giant

Anonymous may be best known for knocking websites offline or stealing data, but one faction of the movement is subverting figures of power in a more circumspect way — by trawling through documents and computer code.

The sub group Anonymous Analytics released a damning report yesterday about Qihoo, the Chinese web giant that claims to be the No. 1 provider of Internet and mobile security products and services in China, as measured by its user base.

Qihoo distributes antivirus software called 360 Safeguard and has a browser called 360 Secure Browser, but in recent years has restructured it business to focus on selling online advertising space, in particular from a single directory page, The company claims to get approximately 90% of its advertising revenue “directly or indirectly” from this page and its sub pages; advertising accounted for 73% of the company’s total revenue in 2011 of $22.9 million.

That figure marked an increase of 136% from the year before, meaning is a serious money-maker for Qihoo. Qihoo recently said that it charged, on average, 1 million yuan  ($156,000) per month, per link on the “Famous Sites” section of its directory page — a breed of e-commerce widely known to have dwindled in Western cyberspace.

Anonymous Analytics says there’s something fishy about Qihoo’s directory page. Qihoo recently claimed on its fourth quarter conference call that the page was getting 20% more web traffic than dominant-player Baidu’s similar page and its sub pages, Qihoo confirmed this with me, citing a table of figures from iResearch.

But the Anonymous group claims that Qihoo is “grotesquely exaggerating” its traffic advantage, and their evidence comes in the form of a recent change in the source code of Having been monitoring the site since last year, the group noticed that a comScore tag had been added to Qihoo’s HTML source code. (ComScore is the best-known, third-party verifier of a web site’s traffic.)

This seemed fine, until the tag was removed on or around June 20, 2012. Why? Anonymous Analytics thinks that Qihoo didn’t like the figures it was seeing. The group then managed to get what it claims are the actual comScore figures through unnamed third parties — “people we trust,” according to the group’s representative — who had bought them from comScore. The figures show that in the months of February, March and April 2012, Qihoo’s all-important directory page had 56%, 51% and 52% less traffic than Baidu’s.

Anonymous Analytics provided me with what appears to be a legitimate document from comScore showing web traffic figures for Baidu and Qihoo’s main directory pages in April 2012. It states that Baidu’s directory page had 84.689 million unique visitors from China, while Qihoo’s had 40.877 million.

The activist group believes that before Qihoo balked at the figures, it had added the comScore tag to appease analysts, investors and critics, “who have called for management to provide independent verification of Qihoo’s traffic claims.”

The group further believes that management installed the tag with a view figuring out how to manipulate comScore’s traffic analytics. “We are so certain of this that we invite engineers at comScore to analyze data coming out of since the beginning of the year,” Anonymous Analytics says.


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