The Mystery of 250 Cloned Websites Linked to Gambling Firms

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In a concerning discovery, Swedish digital rights organization Qurium has uncovered around 250 cloned websites that seem to be operating as conduits for Chinese football gambling outfits. These cloned sites, whose creation dates back to September 2021, appear to be part of an elaborate scheme to promote Chinese-linked gambling platforms.

Web of Clones and Gambling Links

The investigation began when Filipino media outlet MindaNews stumbled upon a clone of its own website. This duplicate had been translated into Chinese and was riddled with various gambling advertisements. Qurium's subsequent inquiry revealed that numerous organizations, including private businesses, universities, and public libraries, had fallen victim to this site-copying endeavor.

What adds a twist to the story is Qurium's assertion that some of these gambling ads are linked to a physical address in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, where several gambling companies are registered.

One website promoted through these cloned sites is associated with Kaiyun, a gambling entity holding a UK business license operated by Gibraltar-based TGP Europe Limited. TGP specializes in providing "white label" gaming services, essentially offering a platform that allows organizations, including football clubs, to create branded gambling services without the hassle of managing the infrastructure.

However, TGP Europe Limited has been cited by the UK Gambling Commission for violating anti-money laundering requirements, raising further concerns about its operations.

Qurium also references reporting from football-focused outlet Josimar, which suggests that TGP provides its services to China-controlled entities that operate gaming services. Due to the ban on gambling in China, these organizations operate from bases in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Most of the cloned websites' domain names were registered by Pte. Ltd, an organization with a history of registering domains that closely resemble other well-known brands, often used for gambling websites. Notably, Gname has been reprimanded by the World Intellectual Property Organization for such activities.

Unmasking the Motive

The motivation behind cloning these sites and registering questionable domains for promoting gambling remains murky. One plausible explanation is that these cloned sites can serve as a workaround for publishers and ad networks who are reluctant to carry certain types of ads.

Illegally cloned websites are less discerning about the third-party ads they host, making them a convenient tool for operators of gambling platforms looking to boost traffic.

It's unclear whether these cloned websites specifically target individuals in the People's Republic of China, where gambling is illegal, and VPN usage is discouraged. Alternatively, they may be aimed at the sizable Chinese diaspora residing outside of China.

Regardless of the intended audience, these cloned websites face challenges in search engine rankings due to their duplicated content. This not only hinders their effectiveness but also underscores the ethical and legal concerns surrounding their operations.

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