The Return Of The Google Stalker

Sebastian Thrun, Associate Professor of Comput...
Sebastian Thrun, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an extraordinary day here at I Doubt It. An article I wrote eleven months ago was mentioned in comments on The Atlantic. I stared fuzzily at the hit counter for several seconds this morning, thinking that somehow the decimal point was in the wrong place.

Then someone followed up with a post to Reddit, and all hell broke loose. So far today there have been more than 6,000 visitors to the blog. I won’t lie, that’s better than average.

The article in question concerned the – let’s be clear from the start about this – apparently deranged accusations being levelled against Eric Schmidt and Sebastian Thrun, both of whom have held leading positions at Google and at Stanford University, by a man calling himself Peter Cao. (Posts that seem to be by the same hand have appeared under the names M Cao, PeterCaoFruit, and Cao Ming.)

He does this by a strange form of stalking: Whenever these men are mentioned in a forum open to comments, Cao will turn up to make his accusations. Search on his name and either of the others and you will see it, again and again, relentlessly. Often he’s the first to comment, giving a distinct impression that he spends a great deal of time on this. His claim, or at least the most specific claim among vaguer accusations of crime, is that Thrun and Schmidt are somehow implicated in the murder of a Stanford student.

What some people have asked – have had to ask – on comments here and on those other forums, is whether there could be anything in this, though I don’t think anyone who actually reads Cao’s words entertains that idea for long. It would be wrong however to dismiss him as a raving madman simply because he writes like a raving madman. Perhaps he sounds less coherent than he really is because of poor English skills. Even if he is unbalanced, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he is telling truth.

And if it were true, well, what a story. The man notorious for saying “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” caught in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice! And who could better orchestrate a cover-up than the CEO of Google? It would be easy to ridicule such a Perfect Crime, but we can’t dismiss it purely on the grounds of being dramatic. The unlikely may happen less often than the likely, but it happens.

And on the face of it there are questionable aspects to the official story. As briefly as possible: The dead person is Mengyao Zhou, an apparently excellent young Stanford doctoral student who suddenly disappeared in 2007. Some days later her car was found almost a hundred miles away, in Santa Rosa. They found her in the boot (trunk).

Now one’s automatic assumption in those circumstances would be murder, but with more detail the picture changes. Her head was resting on a garment folded up for a pillow (paywall protected, full text here). With her were several empty bottles of a sleeping pill; receipts and CCTV showed her to have purchased the pills. The coroner described the level of the drug in her system as potentially fatal, and an email that Zhou sent to her 16-year-old sister as “consistent with a goodbye note.” A coroner’s verdict of suicide was reached in 2008.

It remains puzzling that Mengyao Zhou should lock herself in the boot of her car, so far from home, to commit suicide by overdose. But then you can’t expect someone killing themselves to make choices that appear rational to others. If it’s not tasteless to speculate, perhaps she felt ashamed and wanted to hide herself.

The only evidence of foul play that has been offered by anyone is a second autopsy, commissioned by her father two months after the death. He claims that it found signs of blunt force trauma. This hasn’t been made public as far as I can find, but the original examiner, Dr. Kelly Arthur of the Sonoma County coroner’s office, reviewed it and said she stood by her original finding that there were no signs of trauma.

So the only interpretations really possible are (a) a suicide, and a father who, quite understandably, refuses to accept that, or (b) a murder and elaborate cover-up, involving two police departments and a coroner. While the latter isn’t impossible, what makes it unconvincing is the absence of any motive or a credible suspect. No one seems to have suggested who would want to kill Mengyao Zhou, or why.

Except Peter Cao. He asserts that Mengyao Zhou was murdered by or with the help of Schmidt and Thrun of Google, or by people “on their side”.

Why? Well Cao claims that in 2004, while a Stanford student, he was assaulted by a female colleague. There is a detailed account of his side of the story in what appears to  be a statement to college authorities or campus police, here. It seems that later she accused him of sexual assault, though again I must emphasise that I can find no account except his to go on (and yes, I’ve tried search engines other than Google…). That could mean anything from a perfect cover-up to the whole thing being a fantasy of Cao’s, but I assume the most likely explanation is that the matter was dealt with on campus and no formal charges were ever brought.

So we have no way to judge who was in the right here, but perhaps that’s not relevant. The important point is that Cao asserts that Thrun, or a faction he believes to exist in the faculty supporting Thrun, took her side because they are both German. While it sounds highly unprofessional, there’s nothing impossible about that. There can certainly be groups that work within institutions to discriminate against non-members. It is plausible that Cao was a victim of injustice, discrimination or even blatant racism.

What Cao goes on to allege is that this group forms part of a Mafia-like collaboration of fascists which had Mengyao Zhou murdered as a personal demonstration to him that they could get away with killing any Chinese Stanford student they liked.

I leave the reader to decide how probable they think that is.

Merry-Go-Roundup 2

no spam!
I do not like it

The last week was of course dominated by 9/11, its conspiracy theories especially, but my attention was also arrested by a court in England which created some rather unusual and onerous conditions of bail. I ranted somewhat about the extraordinary birthday arrangements for Ireland’s disgraced former leader Bertie Ahern, and got good and mad with what seems like an ever-rising tide of ever-more-tedious spam.

But I’d swear, writing about spam attracts more spam. And writing about conspiracy theories attracts weirder spam. Look at this one:

We have learned a great deal about recovering from narcotic addiction and have found several methods that work well. This is information drug treatment programs would not want out since it would cause them to lose a large number of patients.

The what now? Are they offering me drug rehabilitation, or drug rehabilitation as a business opportunity? I don’t want to know.

The surprise hit of last week though was the one about the cyberstalking of Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google. It was picked up by a couple of other sites, including the formidable Reddit and the forums of the veteran Ctrl+Alt+Del webcomic. This made it the single most-read post of the blog so far. Lovely stuff. I encourage you all to follow this example and spam other sites about I.Doubt.It.

Er, I didn’t say spam.

The Persecution Of Google’s Eric Schmidt

There is now a follow-up to this article: The Return Of The Google Stalker

Schmidt, left, with Brin and Page
It is possible that they hired him to *look* evil though (Schmidt, left, with Brin and Page)

I’ve had unkind things to say in the past about Google, in particular executive chairman Eric E. Schmidt. Along with many others, I have – possibly unfairly – suggested that his attitude towards privacy rights might not be all it should.

I have never accused him of murder though. You have to give me that.

Eric Schmidt is being cyberstalked. No, that would be to aggrandize it. Someone is comment-spamming Eric Schmidt. Virtually anywhere Schmidt is mentioned, a Chinese guy calling himself Peter Cao comes to accuse him (and Stanford Professor of Artificial Intelligence Sebastian Thrun) of being involved in the murder and/or cover-up of the murder of May Mengyao Zhou, a Stanford graduate student whose suspicious death was ruled suicide. His accusations however lack… credibility. To say the least. Taken from the above links:

Eric Schmidt represents and is backed up by some mafia like dark force which tend to resovle their problems with killing power. Threatening my life with May Zhou’s case is not the only time, Schmidt’s side had actually plotted a murder on me during his fight with authorities and would have wiped me out, though it was crashed by securities in time, and that’s why he was removed from his CEO position. [Red text in the original]

Cao never seems to rest. Do a search on the terms “Peter Cao” “Eric Schmidt” and there are countless (highly repetitive) examples of his accusations. Is there any substance to them? Well, personally, I am strongly persuaded that the guy is an utter fruitbat. Here’s a glimpse of how he sees himself (which perhaps also reveals his motivation):

Google’s ambition in China is not limited in business. Google tried to act as a flagship of foreign powers to rival Chinese authorities on Chinese territory. Even till today, google still arrogantly places itself hight and lofty above Chinese people over its existence in China.
In the past, Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt had backed up crimes against me, and had threatened my life with the mysterious death of very innocent people in Stanford in that case. I defeated Schmidt at authorities in this case and got him down from his CEO position. I could tell Google would be eventually terminated and kicked out of in China if Google executives refuse to ‘change stance on China’.

To make a bad situation worse, it appears someone responded to his comments on Business Insider by registering under the name Eric Schmidt and trolling the crazy guy (See comments):

Peter. It’s me, Eric. I thought we already talked about this. I am going to squash you like a bug if you keep posting on this comment board. What you don’t know (but surely suspected) is that the video cameras I installed in your house are allowing me to track everything you do. In fact, I am live streaming your pathetic life, including all the insane searches you do about my home address and love interests, to all my friends on the Stanford faculty. Next I will bring in my mafia-like dark killing power to bear.

I think most of us would assume that was not the real Schmidt… On what appears to be his blog however, Cao has taken the threat as vindication.

I report all this not because I think it’s amusing (though shamefully, I do), but out of a rather morbid fascination. Paranoid delusion is in the air right now as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches. Fantasies of persecution – whether those of the deniers, or those of the attackers themselves – have the power to change the world. And recently it feels a lot like the mad are winning.