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Hawaii → Singapore → London → Shibuya (16)

2023.10.27 12:45 Mariko Tsuji, Makoto Watanabe

Tracing the operator of an app allowing the buying and selling of illegal sexual images led us all over the world.

(Illustration by qnel)

Who is the operator of the app “Album Collection,” on which child sexual abuse images and other illegal sexually explicit images are being traded?

Investigating together with white hat hackers, we found a company and a person.

The company name was “Max Payment Gateway Services,” and the operator in charge was “Keisuke Nitta.”

Max Payment Gateway Services and Nitta have created other apps that work the same way as Album Collection: “Photo Capsule” and “Movie Container.” Both apps were hotbeds for the buying and selling of sexually explicit images, including child sexual abuse images.

Why had the operator created the same app over and over again, changing its name each time?

Because, I guessed, if illegal images continue to be traded for a long period of time on apps with same name, it is more likely to be noticed by the police.

What kind of person is Nitta?

Connections between the apps revealed in the previous article

What are Keisuke Nitta’s Chinese characters?

An internet search for “Max Payment Gateway Services” and “Keisuke Nitta” hit upon a company database operated by the British government.

When I opened the site, I found a registered company called “Max Payment Gateway Services UK Limited,” with an office listed in London. The company had been founded in June 2013 but was dissolved two years later in September 2015.

“Keisuke Nitta” was listed as the company president. Was he currently operating the Singapore-based Max Payment Gateway Services?

Information on the UK-based Max Payment Gateway Services also revealed an address in Japan, as a form of contact information for Nitta.

The address was located a three-minute walk from Shibuya Station in Tokyo, on a floor of a large office building with 11 floors above ground and three basement levels.

What company occupied the floor in question?

When I searched the address, it matched the headquarters address listed in a 2014 job posting for a company called “infotop.”

Infotop’s president at the time was “Keisuke Nitta” (新田啓介). I was now able to search for him based on the specific Chinese characters used in his name.

An “industry-leading” information product company

Info Top primarily offers affiliate services.

Affiliate refers to “pay-for-success” online advertising. A person who wants to earn advertising fees posts a company’s advertising URL on their website, blog, or social media. When a user clicks on the URL, or when a service or product is sold through the URL, the poster earns income.

Infotop’s role was to connect sellers with buyers as well as posters called affiliates, and to handle payments on their behalf. Although the company changed its name to “First Penguin” in 2015, it still uses infotop as the name of its affiliate platform.

Looking at First Penguin’s website, the main products the company handles appeared to be “information products” that sell know-how. The following are some examples.

Body modification techniques to attract women: 15,000 yen (about $100)

Specific ways to earn over 500,000 yen (about $3,360) per month in FX: 32,780 yen (about $220)

Rewrite the subconscious mind and awaken the genius brain!: 74,000 yen (about $500)

On its website, First Penguin touts its “industry-leading position as a site specializing in information products.”

According to the company’s public documents, it had a total of over 3 million affiliate service members as of 2018. Total transaction volume exceeded 15 billion yen (about $100 million).

Apartment in an upscale residential neighborhood

Keisuke Nitta, the head of this affiliate business startup, was also the head of operations for Album Collection.

What does Nitta think about the suffering of many children and women due to transactions within Album Collection and his previous, similar apps?

I found that Nitta owned an apartment in Tokyo. I decided to visit him in person, together with Tansa Editor-in-Chief Makoto Watanabe.

The apartment was located about a 10-minute walk from a terminal station in central Tokyo, one street removed from a main thoroughfare. The neighborhood, an upscale residential area, mainly consisted of small apartment buildings and houses. Nitta’s apartment building was not new, but it had a stylish tile facade.

His name was not written on the mailbox for his apartment. Asking around the neighborhood, we heard that he was no longer living there and that someone else had moved in.

To get to this point, together with white hat hackers, I have followed Nitta’s trail through websites and company listings around the world.

First, I researched a company called Eclipse Incorporated, which was listed on Album Collection’s website. It was a shell company registered in Hawaii.

Next, we found “Photo Capsule” and “Movie Container,” two apps identical in both mechanism and content to Album Collection. “Max Payment Gateway Services” and “Nitta,” the operators of both apps, turned out to be the true identity of Album Collection’s operator.

Furthermore, we discovered that Max Payment Gateway Services, the company Nitta operates, was also registered in London, England. Since Nitta’s contact address registered with the British government was in Shibuya, Tokyo, we were able to learn that Keisuke Nitta is a former president of Info Top (now First Penguin), a company that operates an affiliate business in Japan.

I have been investigating the real situation to elucidate everything about Album Collection, following the trail from Hawaii to Singapore, London, Shibuya, and finally Nitta’s Tokyo apartment — but Nitta was not there. However, there was no way I was giving up.

We had a breakthrough. Another individual, very close to Nitta, held the key to the operation of the app.

Composition of Album Collection’s operation, revealed in our investigation

To be continued.

(Originally published in Japanese on Oct. 5, 2023.)

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