What actually happens when a content farm steals your handmade content

Today I want to talk about something that very regularly affects writers, beauty bloggers and photography bloggers, and occasionally affects travel bloggers too: Content theft. How does it happen and what can you do about it?

I am a moderate traffic website; according to both Amazon and Alexa, I am not yet in the big leagues (I’m in the top 1,000,000 websites, but so are 999,999 other sites). I do have some very good SEO, however, and I score first result on the first page of Google for at least 10 different search terms, because I work very hard to make my content relevant to what people are searching for. Because of this, I’m not blind to the crappy games some other sites play so they can rank higher in Google.

The past two days, however, my single most popular article has taken a nosedive. My traffic has plummeted and I have lost more than a hundred visitors a day. When investigating this, I discovered that a content-farm type website has basically stolen my top ranking article, reworded it and dumbed it down, and posted it on their site. They aren’t ranking above me, but they’ve got enough relevance that they’ve taken some of my traffic away. The thing is, despite the fact they’ve directly paraphrased my article, and added in some photoshopped snazzy pictures (that they also haven’t attributed), they’ve not actually said where they got it from. And they haven’t asked me if they could steal my stuff.

content theft statistics
Picture showing my most popular page; this page was most popular, day in day out, for months.
content theft how to tell
The stats for the blue circles page have increased, proving this shouldn’t have been a “quiet day.” It’s only my most popular page that’s been affected, and all the other stats were just the usual day-to-day fluctuations. That’s how I knew it was probably a content theft issue.

I get by solely on my income from this website and from the books I write (on my author website). This website (Delight and Inspire) generates 20-100% of my income on any given month. Needless to say, I don’t make much money. So when someone steals my personally researched and written articles, changes a few words to get past Google’s duplication penalties, and, by proxy, prevents visitors from finding my site, it makes me feel worried. If people took every article from my site and did that, I’d have no income. It would be like someone putting the PDF of my books on torrent sites, and it’s obviously not a nice feeling.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it because they haven’t just copied and pasted my work. So this is an exercise in pragmatism more than a solution. I am usually not remotely precious about copyright, and when people email me, asking if they can, for example, translate my articles into Italian, I am usually happy that the information is getting shared. But that’s the difference. The cool Italian guy asked, and I knew they were using my content in that way, and I’m happy with the result, which is that Italians can now read that information in their own language. I now get 1-2 emails a week from Italians trying to cross the Bering Strait (true story). Generally, I think sharing information is the way forward.

When someone does it without acknowledging the source material, however, they’re just trying to make themselves look good with other people’s hard work. And that’s not ok. I would bet money that the person who stole my content was paid by the content farm for “creating” my content. But since half the internet is run by automatic bots and computers these days, with little user generated interaction on sites like Livestrong (a content farm), there’s no-one I can contact about this issue (normally, you can contact someone and ask for the page to be taken down or attributed).

So after the initial infuriation has worn off, I am left with the truth of the situation. Someone stole my stuff, they fooled Google (and whoever paid them to “write” it) and my income has been affected. I cannot do anything about it, so I can either go crazy (crazier) with rage and fury at this daylight robbery and turn into a pathetic dribbling ball of tears, or I can choose to let it go.

Imma let it go, and looking to the future, I’m going to try to ensure that I keep producing fresh, relevant content for my readers that ensures I always rank first on Google for other things. Like my lip plumpers review or my eyelash serum comparison reviews that I have written.

How have you dealt with copyright theft? Let me know in the comments!

No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants.  All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding.  Without funding, people don’t research things.  Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for.  Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields.  By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products.  Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.  Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.”  For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other).  This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible.  This is how many people get a PhD these days!  It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries.  If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall.  When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)?  It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding.  Research is driven by funding – especially at universities.  Who funds research?  Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens.  It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.

Do You Use The Right Sunscreen?

With so many different types of sunscreen on the market today, it can be hard to know which type is best for sun protection. And that’s if you don’t even try to contemplate what Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you need to protect yourself from skin cancer and other damage from ultraviolet rays such as premature ageing. Twenty years ago, many people used to view sunscreen as optional. Thirty years before that, sunscreen had barely been invented and everyone thought SPF 2 (yeah, you read it right) was the biggest thing ever. These days, we’ve all been terrified into knowing better, and advances in SPF technology means we can all afford to protect ourselves from UV sun damage. Skin cancer is the ninth most common cancer in Europe (there are actually three main types of skin cancer, but they put them together for this statistic), and malignant melanoma (the really bad one) is the 19th most common cancer worldwide. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, these figures are rising quickly, because our parents and grandparents (and so on) trashed the O-Zone layer that used to reflect many more of the harmful UV rays back out into space. So the meek inherit the Earth – but only after the pushy have wrecked it for everyone. Thanks, gramps. Isn’t it handy that they invented sunscreen around the same time we really needed it?

Factor 50 suncream sunblock SPF 50 high. Avon

More importantly, no statistic is ever going to show whether skin cancer will happen to you or not. Since sunscreen is really good at preventing premature ageing, and protects you from ultraviolet rays, why risk it at all? Here’s the types of sunscreen and their pro’s and con’s:

Sun Block:
Typical range: Factor 50 and over.
This is the gloopy stuff that looks like emulsion paint when you put it on your skin. It is favoured by very pasty looking people (the correlation is probably because it makes you look whiter) and is renowned for being able to block EVERYTHING. But is that necessarily a good thing?
According to Model Beauty Secrets, you should be using factor 50 and over. My aunt, a nurse practitioner (no, Americans, it’s not like being a nurse, it’s like being a doctor with less pay), also recommends factor 50+ during summer months.
But there was that rumour last year about whether high-factor sun block caused Vitamin D deficiency. I’ve written an article all about Vitamin D that’s very scientific and much more comprehensive than anything I’ve seen to support this theory, and here’s what I think: If you don’t get Vitamin D from your diet, for example if you are vegan, then you need to get it from somewhere. HOWEVER, if you don’t get the cholesterol (as vegans don’t), going unprotected in the sun is useless because your body won’t have any raw materials to turn into Vitamin D! I’m glad to see this myth getting shelved again for the time being, but I do think our fear of cancer and ageing is starting to spoil the fun of going out on a sunny day – with OR without sunscreen.
My biggest gripe with high-factor sun block is that it suffocates my skin, overloads it with crap, and makes me break out in horrible spots. That can’t be good for you either, and I can’t see models walking round with white skin and red spots all over to combat fear of ageing – surely ageing skin is just as bad as red breakout spots! It’s a trade off, though – if you burn easily and have very fair skin, or if you’re a child, use sun block. Otherwise, go for something lighter and re-apply regularly.

Tanning Oil (with SPF):
Typical range: Factor 2-15
This is a light SPF for people who wish to tan in the sun. I’ll be honest, I’ve been using this stuff during the thirty degree heat wave we’ve been having in the UK this week (I use the factor 15). I’m not convinced it’s actually making me tan any quicker than normal sunscreen, but it definitely feels nicer on my skin, is quicker and easier to apply, and leaves me feeling non-sticky, which are all a good thing.
The cons are if you have greasy skin this might not be for you (I have normal skin, bordering on very slightly dry), and obviously it’s not going to be great for sitting around the house in your best dress – you might get oil stains. But for its intended purpose – tanning – it’s the best sun protection and skincare you can get, as it doesn’t leave your skin feeling overloaded.

Face Sun Cream:
Typical range: Factor 20-50
This is a special type of sun cream that is made for the more delicate skin on your face. After all, you wouldn’t use body lotion on your face, so why use body sun cream on it? The pros are that it’s usually formulated to be non-greasy, non-shiny and some of them are even gels that are supposed to be more hydrating (for my normal skin I disagree and feel drier after using a gel for some reason). The downsides are that hardly any shops actually stock it, and that it can cost the same for a tiny tube as it costs for a whole big bottle of the body sun cream. Avon does some good ones but they can be very expensive so keep an eye out for special offers.

Facial Moisturisers with Sun Protection:
Typical range: Factor 10-20
These are usually daily moisturisers such as Olay that have a small amount of sunscreen in them. The advantage is that you don’t need a separate cream for sunny days, but the disadvantages are that you probably won’t re-apply it during the day, and that means that the sun will burn through it as the day goes on. Factor 15 needs to be reapplied every 20-30 minutes in direct sun exposure or on a cloudy day, twice during the day (source here) and most people put their face cream on and forget about it. This leads to premature ageing, so you’re better off going barefaced and suncreamed in summer or on sunny days (remember you can even burn while skiing, so cream up whatever time of year that the sun is out) so that you can re-apply without removing all your makeup. Additionally, it’s only really useful if it’s factor 15 and above, as I discussed earlier, and annoyingly they don’t seem to do an SPF 50 day cream worth a damn.

Body Sun Cream:
Typical range: Factor 15-30
This is the best sun protection for most people. It isn’t too cloggy and isn’t too lax on the protection, and it goes well under normal clothes without causing grease stains or other problems. The advantages are that it’s cheap and easy to come by, and that it usually comes in a good sized bottle so you don’t need to worry about whether you have enough to keep reapplying. The disadvantages are that it won’t protect you enough if you’re pale or a toddler, and that it can cause you to break out if you use it on your face.

What about UVA and UVB?

Most sun creams nowadays protect against both UVA and UVB.  UVA can age us and UVB can burn us, so finding a sunscreen that protects against both is important.  The SPF on the bottle usually refers JUST to UVB, which prevents burning, but does nothing to stop premature ageing (just to make it more complicated)!  To find out the UVA rating, there is now a labelling requirement that if it says “UVA” on the label, a sunscreen has to protect you against 1/3 of the amount of UVA of the SPF.  For example, if your sunscreen was SPF30, with a UVA sticker on the bottle, it would have a UVA SPF of at least 10.  If there’s no UVA logo, there is no obligation to protect you from UVA.  To make it more complicated, there’s also UVC, but apparently that still gets stopped by what’s left of the O-zone layer.

General Sunscreen Tips:

  • The bottle needs to be kept in a cool place: This is so the suncream doesn’t degrade from the heat – yep, suncream has to be kept out of the sun. The fridge is good if you’re in a super-hot country like Greece or Tunisia, but in the UK it should usually be fine in a cupboard, drawer or shelf in your house.
  • Don’t forget the lips! Your lips are unable to produce melanin to protect themselves from the sun so they need all the help they can get – an SPF 20+ lip balm is perfect for men and women alike.
  • Don’t forget your scalp either! You can either spray suncream onto it directly or wear a hat, but don’t get sunburn on your scalp, I have it on high authority that it’s a terrible place to get it!  The hat is the better option if you need to protect your hair as well.  Baldies and people with a shaved head should use a high SPF because most of the sun will catch your head.
  • Follow the airport’s rules on what size bottles you can take with you:  It’s really embarrassing to be made to throw away all those suncreams and after suns when you get to airport security, and it’s a surefire way to annoy the other passengers who followed the rules (yes, the rules are really dumb, but you can’t change ’em, if you don’t like them, travel overland like I do most of the time).
  • Reapply it regularly: Often if you touch your skin (e.g. your arm) and it feels dry (like it doesn’t have any moisturiser/suncream on) then you need to reapply.  If you can’t tell, then reapply to be safe.

Which sunscreen are you using during this heatwave?  Let me know in the comments!