Mozilla Drops Onerep After CEO Admits to Running People-Search Networks

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The nonprofit organization that supports the Firefox web browser said today it is winding down its new partnership with Onerep, an identity protection service recently bundled with Firefox that offers to remove users from hundreds of people-search sites. The move comes just days after a report by KrebsOnSecurity forced Onerep’s CEO to admit that he has founded dozens of people-search networks over the years.

Mozilla Monitor. Image Mozilla Monitor Plus video on Youtube.

Mozilla only began bundling Onerep in Firefox last month, when it announced the reputation service would be offered on a subscription basis as part of Mozilla Monitor Plus. Launched in 2018 under the name Firefox Monitor, Mozilla Monitor also checks data from the website Have I Been Pwned? to let users know when their email addresses or password are leaked in data breaches.

On March 14, KrebsOnSecurity published a story showing that Onerep’s Belarusian CEO and founder Dimitiri Shelest launched dozens of people-search services since 2010, including a still-active data broker called Nuwber that sells background reports on people. Onerep and Shelest did not respond to requests for comment on that story.

But on March 21, Shelest released a lengthy statement wherein he admitted to maintaining an ownership stake in Nuwber, a consumer data broker he founded in 2015 — around the same time he launched Onerep.

Shelest maintained that Nuwber has “zero cross-over or information-sharing with Onerep,” and said any other old domains that may be found and associated with his name are no longer being operated by him.

“I get it,” Shelest wrote. “My affiliation with a people search business may look odd from the outside. In truth, if I hadn’t taken that initial path with a deep dive into how people search sites work, Onerep wouldn’t have the best tech and team in the space. Still, I now appreciate that we did not make this more clear in the past and I’m aiming to do better in the future.” The full statement is available here (PDF).

Onerep CEO and founder Dimitri Shelest.

In a statement released today, a spokesperson for Mozilla said it was moving away from Onerep as a service provider in its Monitor Plus product.

“Though customer data was never at risk, the outside financial interests and activities of Onerep’s CEO do not align with our values,” Mozilla wrote. “We’re working now to solidify a transition plan that will provide customers with a seamless experience and will continue to put their interests first.”

KrebsOnSecurity also reported that Shelest’s email address was used circa 2010 by an affiliate of Spamit, a Russian-language organization that paid people to aggressively promote websites hawking male enhancement drugs and generic pharmaceuticals. As noted in the March 14 story, this connection was confirmed by research from multiple graduate students at my alma mater George Mason University.

Shelest denied ever being associated with Spamit. “Between 2010 and 2014, we put up some web pages and optimize them — a widely used SEO practice — and then ran AdSense banners on them,” Shelest said, presumably referring to the dozens of people-search domains KrebsOnSecurity found were connected to his email addresses ([email protected] and [email protected]). “As we progressed and learned more, we saw that a lot of the inquiries coming in were for people.”

Shelest also acknowledged that Onerep pays to run ads on “on a handful of data broker sites in very specific circumstances.”

“Our ad is served once someone has manually completed an opt-out form on their own,” Shelest wrote. “The goal is to let them know that if they were exposed on that site, there may be others, and bring awareness to there being a more automated opt-out option, such as Onerep.”

Reached via Twitter/X, HaveIBeenPwned founder Troy Hunt said he knew Mozilla was considering a partnership with Onerep, but that he was previously unaware of the Onerep CEO’s many conflicts of interest.

“I knew Mozilla had this in the works and we’d casually discussed it when talking about Firefox monitor,” Hunt told KrebsOnSecurity. “The point I made to them was the same as I’ve made to various companies wanting to put data broker removal ads on HIBP: removing your data from legally operating services has minimal impact, and you can’t remove it from the outright illegal ones who are doing the genuine damage.”

Playing both sides — creating and spreading the same digital disease that your medicine is designed to treat — may be highly unethical and wrong. But in the United States it’s not against the law. Nor is collecting and selling data on Americans. Privacy experts say the problem is that data brokers, people-search services like Nuwber and Onerep, and online reputation management firms exist because virtually all U.S. states exempt so-called “public” or “government” records from consumer privacy laws.

Those include voting registries, property filings, marriage certificates, motor vehicle records, criminal records, court documents, death records, professional licenses, and bankruptcy filings. Data brokers also can enrich consumer records with additional information, by adding social media data and known associates.

The March 14 story on Onerep was the second in a series of three investigative reports published here this month that examined the data broker and people-search industries, and highlighted the need for more congressional oversight — if not regulation — on consumer data protection and privacy.

On March 8, KrebsOnSecurity published A Close Up Look at the Consumer Data Broker Radaris, which showed that the co-founders of Radaris operate multiple Russian-language dating services and affiliate programs. It also appears many of their businesses have ties to a California marketing firm that works with a Russian state-run media conglomerate currently sanctioned by the U.S. government.

On March 20, KrebsOnSecurity published The Not-So-True People-Search Network from China, which revealed an elaborate web of phony people-search companies and executives designed to conceal the location of people-search affiliates in China who are earning money promoting U.S. based data brokers that sell personal information on Americans.

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