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HubHopper republishing hijacked RSS feeds: their response

February 13, 2020 · By · 4.3 minutes to read

On Feb 12, Podnews published:

We’ve discovered that HubHopper, an Indian podcast app and website, is altering and republishing public podcast RSS feeds. This has the effect of spamming Google Podcasts (which is already listing these copies in preference to some official podcast feeds), and at least for our podcast, our full show notes have been removed, our category altered, links added to their website instead of ours, and an additional click-counter added to our audio links. Other companies have done similar things in the past, but quickly stopped. HubHopper have not responded to our emails for comment.

HubHopper’s eventual response to us

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

We apologize for any inconvenience we may have unintentionally caused!

Our objective was purely an SEO strengthening exercise and was in no way intended to have users subscribe to our RSS over the creators. This is completely our fault and we have now put in place the relevant checks and balances.

We would like to note that we don’t host, replicate, manipulate, benefit or monetize from anyone’s content.

Podcasters work hard to create incredible content and are the sole owners of their MP3. All content has and always will be streamed directly from a creators chosen hosting platform.

To reiterate, ALL streams are made directly from a podcasters chosen hosting service and their listen and sub counts are not impacted in any way.

Our objective is solely to serve the ecosystem and make this beautiful medium and content reach as many people as possible. The last thing we would ever want to do is take any credit away from creators.

Thank you once again for bringing this bug and mistake to our notice. We have taken the necessary steps and stopped this activity and disabled this API all together.

We are more than happy to remove any podcast/episode you wish from our directory.

Additionally we’re always open to hear suggestions anyone may have on how we can improve as our intention is only to serve creators.

Looking forward to hearing from you and sincerest apologies for any confusion we may have caused.

WhatsApp

HubHopper also commented on their private WhatsApp group:

Hi guys, I thought it was best I personally responded to thesd messages. This is the same response we are sending to podnews but I wanted you to hear it first from me. We apologize for any alarm we may have unintentionally caused!! Our objective was purely an SEO strengthening exercise and was in no way intended to have users subscribe to our RSS over the creators. We would like to note that we don’t host, replicate, manipulate, benefit or monetize from anyones content. Podcasters work hard to create incredible content and are the sole owners of their MP3. We redirect NOTHING to Hubhopper and all content has and always will be streamed directly from a creators chosen hosting platform. To reiterate, ALL streams are made directly from a podcasters chosen hosting service and their listen and sub counts are not impacted in any way. Our objective is solely to serve the ecosystem and make this beautiful medium and content reach as many people as possible. But thankyou for bringing this bug and mistake to our notice. we have taken the necessary steps and stopped this activity and disabled this API all together. We are more than happy to remove any podcast/episode you wish from our directory. Additionally were would be very grateful to hear any suggestions anyone may have on how we can improve as our intention is only to serve creators. Looking forward to hearing from you and SINCEREST apologies for any confusion we may have caused. Best Regards. Team Hubhopper.

As we are researching this. We’re learning that platforms before us (including Castbox and [another company]) seem to have made the same mistake. We have taken from their learning and are resolving this bug as we speak.

(We have edited out the other company, since we do not believe that this company has ever republished RSS feeds. This person is right, though: others have done this in the past, as we made clear.)

…and…

I couldn’t agree with you all more!! This bug is long overdue should have been resolved a while ago. I take full responsibility on behalf of the Hubhopper team and no one is to blame but myself. Rest assured this bug will be addressed immediately and we will come out stronger for it. I urge you to continue to keep us vigilant. This community is our compass and we need you to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Our view

After giving the HubHopper team over 36 hours to respond to the initial email, it’s disappointing that it took further contact to get this resolved. (In the end, we contacted the owner of the VC fund that has given the company initial funding.)

HubHopper’s response claims variously that these hijacked RSS feeds were “for SEO reasons”, but then adds that it was a “bug”. It was not, and it’s untrue to claim this. It was deliberately designed to take traffic destined for podcasters.

In their private WhatsApp group, the claim that “we redirect NOTHING to HubHopper” was entirely false. As we pointed out, and as the above screenshot displays, they had redirected all parts of all feeds to the HubHopper platform. To claim otherwise is dishonest.

They may have been unaware that this would have significant effects on Google Podcasts: but a lack of understanding in this space is not good news for podcasters.

Podcasters’ RSS feeds should never be altered, and are a fundamental part of the social contract made when podcast directories and apps help themselves to podcast content. Any alteration to podcast RSS feeds or audio requires explicit consent from publishers. Our advice is to tread very carefully when it comes to companies that do not value that relationship.

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