Hundreds of websites cloned to run ads for Chinese football gambling outfits
Linked to org that UK authorities found once failed its anti-money-laundering obligations
Swedish digital rights organization Qurium has discovered around 250 cloned websites and suggested they exist to drive people to China-linked gambling sites.
Qurium's report explains that Filipino media outlet MindaNews found a clone of itself, translated into Chinese and laden with gambling ads.
Further investigation yielded hundreds of similar clones – with private businesses, universities, and public libraries among the orgs whose sites were copied and pasted.
"All clones were created during September 2021 and include advertisement of the gambling company '188bet' via the link to 520xingyun.com/from/188bet.php" states Qurium's report.
Which is where things get interesting. The org alleges that some of the gambling ads found at 520xingyun.com website "are connected to a physical address in the tax-haven Isle of Man where several gambling companies are registered."
Qurium further alleges that one of the websites promoted is linked to an outfit called Kaiyun, which holds a UK business license operated by a Gibraltar-based entity called TGP Europe Limited.
TGP bills itself as a provider of "white label" gaming services – essentially an as-a-service betting platform that a football club might use to create its own branded gambling service without having to bother with the mucky business of running the requisite platform.
The biz has been named by the UK Gambling Commission as having breached the anti-money-laundering requirements of its license.
Qurium cites reporting by football-focussed outlet Josimar that claims TGP provides its services to China-controlled entities that run gaming services, but can't operate in China as gambling is banned there. Such orgs therefore use Vietnam and the Philippines as their base.
Qurium has also found that the domain names for most of the cloned sites were registered by Gname.com Pte. Ltd – an org with form registering domains that closely resemble other brands that are then used for gambling sites. The digital rights org points out that Gname has been called out by the World Intellectual Property Organization for those activities.
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Why bother to clone sites and register iffy domains to promote gambling sites? Because publishers are reticent to carry certain ads on their sites and big ad networks and adtech companies therefore allow blocking some topics.
Illegally cloned sites probably have few qualms about the third-party ads they serve, making them useful for operators of gambling sites as they seek to generate traffic.
It's unclear if these clones target folks in the People's Republic – where gambling is illegal and punters are strongly discouraged from using VPNs unless they're necessary for business reasons – or whether the sizable Chinese diaspora is the target.
Whatever the motive, the damage is clear: search engines are not kind to sites that host duplicated content, making these cloned sites at the very least an irritant to the web pages they've copied. ®