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Complaints site aims to right consumer wrongs

image captionJohn McAfee unveiled the site during a surprise visit to the DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas

People angry with companies and governments can now share their pain via a crowd-sourced complaints site.

Created by notorious tech entrepreneur John McAfee, the Brownlist aims to find solutions for people treated badly by organisations.

Mr McAfee said the site was a way to channel impotent anger into something more positive.

Ultimately, he said, the site could spur direct action against arrogant firms to make them change their ways.

Anger management

The site was unveiled by Mr McAfee during a surprise visit to the DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas.

"We are doing this because it taps in to the strongest of human emotions, anger, and it does it in a way that turns it positive," he said.

Currently a crude prototype of the finished version of the site was up and running, said Mr McAfee as he invited people to post complaints to the site.

"If you are a small person, like the average American, and some company steps on you or a government, you speak out against something and you are audited the next day, come to our site," he said.

However, he added, people could not just use the Brownlist to rant. Instead, anyone posting a complaint had to also detail a way for their grievance to be fixed.

The different solutions to outstanding problems would be voted on and staff on the site would then work to enact that solution, he said.

"We know that the strongest motivator of human behaviour is anger, and it is also the thing that destroys societies, families and individuals," Mr McAfee told the BBC. "We also know we are losing our power to big corporations and big governments."

"The Brownlist is a way to take back your power," he said. "We can help put people in control of their own lives. Just think of where this could go."

Susan Hall, a partner in the information and communications technology practice at law firm Clarke Willmott, said US laws on freedom of speech would provide some defence but the site could stumble if a lot of people signed up.

"Depending on what people post and what they say, there might be an argument to say they are infringing on registered trademarks," she said. Individuals were unlikely to face such a claim if they wrote about a complaint in isolation but posting it on a site making money off such information might qualify, she said.

In addition, she said, there were potentially issues of harassment involved as well as libel if the site was not diligent about investigating the complaints that people posted.

Finally, she said, some of the companies being complained about might react poorly to the postings and seek relief in the courts.

"It's becoming an increasing issue that people are being sued on the basis of a bad review," she said.

An unnamed investor had provided start-up capital for the site and its ongoing revenues would come from companies that bought subscriptions to the site to track complaints, said Mr McAfee.

A veteran of the tech world, Mr McAfee pioneered anti-virus software via his own firm, which was sold to Intel in 2010, years after the entrepreneur had moved onto other pursuits.

He subsequently moved to Belize but fled the country in 2012 after he was named as a "person of interest" by police investigating the murder of his neighbour. Mr McAfee denies any involvement with the crime.

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