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The Underground Economy of Social Networks 84

Posted by timothy
from the such-a-strange-world-we-live-in dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In a new study, Barracuda Labs analyzed a random sampling of more than 70,000 fake Twitter accounts that are being used to sell fake Twitter followers. They also analyzed some of the people that are using such fake followers including the recent example of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Twitter account. Between Facebook's 10-Q filing stating that 83 million of its accounts are fake, to Mitt Romney's Twitter account recently falling under scrutiny for suspicious followings, fake social network profiles are a hot topic at the moment. And these fake profiles are at the center of a very vibrant and growing underground economy. This underground economy consists of dealers who create and sell the use of thousands of fake social accounts, and abusers who buy follows or likes from these fake accounts to boost their perceived popularity, sell advertising based on their now large social audience or conduct other malicious activity."
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The Underground Economy of Social Networks

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  • I wonder .. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:00PM (#40906179) Homepage Journal

    How many fake accounts will it take to prop up Farcebook after they've forced Timelines on people and they begin the mass exodus to Google+

  • Shills aren't new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:02PM (#40906199) Homepage Journal

    Bulk shills are. Welcome to the future, where the difference between a valid viewpoint and an astroturfed attempt to hornswaggle you out of your own money and political power has shrunk to the imperceptible.

    • hornswaggle

      You learn something new every day.

    • Welcome to the future, where the difference between a valid viewpoint and an astroturfed attempt to hornswaggle you out of your own money and political power has shrunk to the imperceptible.

      Indeed, the very story submission itself was crafted by the Democratic party... it would have been pretty easy to write up a less obviously partisan story summary but they couldn't be bothered to even try and hide.

    • ...where the difference between a valid viewpoint and an astroturfed attempt to hornswaggle you out of your own money and political power has shrunk to the imperceptible.

      Fortunately, most attempts at astroturfing are hopelessly incompetant. I saw one recently here who was almost certainly turfing for Microsoft and he was called out time and time again.

      We live in an age where in marketing circles subtlety and tact are deemed to be completely redundant. No-one takes the effort (or rather, pays the going rate) to actually create plausible, human and difficult to detect astroturfing efforts.

    • by mkkohls (2386704)

      Bulk shills are. Welcome to the future, where the difference between a valid viewpoint and an astroturfed attempt to hornswaggle you out of your own money and political power has shrunk to the imperceptible.

      That's why Mitt has to use them. Not very many of the people who *actually* agree with him are competent enough to use the "new fangled internets" and yet her feels he must seem as if they are.

    • Wait until androids become affordable and astroturfing comes to meatspace...

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:03PM (#40906211)

    Whereas I previously liked all of Mitt Romney's policies and was going to vote for me, this shocking revelation that his Twitter follower count might be manipulated is just too much for me to swallow, so he loses my vote!

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Trepidity (597)

      Hah, I suppose I should preview better before posting. I was going to vote for him of course. But maybe I should indeed write-in "me" instead. My Twitter-follower count is genuine.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, no, don't worry, Mittens, your secret's safe with us, we won't tell everyone about your shill accounts on Slashdot. Continue voting for yourself.

    • by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:37PM (#40907413) Homepage Journal
      Just the fact that he HAS a twitter account was enough to lose my vote.
  • I would have phrased this differently:

    This underground economy consists of dealers who create and sell the use of thousands of fake social accounts, and abusers who buy follows or likes from these fake accounts to boost their perceived popularity, sell advertising based on their now large social audience or conduct other malicious activity."

    We could probably go with something like this:

    This underground economy consists of dealers who create and sell the use of thousands of fake social accounts, and suckers who buy follows or likes from these fake accounts to boost their perceived popularity while under the misguided impression that these numbers convince people to purchase their product

    One "like" from a "friend" is worth a hundred thousand likes from random strangers (even if they're real people). And one detailed comment about a product from an actual trusted friend is worth more than a hundred thousand likes from friends.

    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:15PM (#40906345)

      One "like" from a "friend" is worth a hundred thousand likes from random strangers (even if they're real people). And one detailed comment about a product from an actual trusted friend is worth more than a hundred thousand likes from friends.

      That was supposed to be the whole point of Facebook. It's easy to "like" anything, but having a relationship graph gives you the context necessary to decide who the hell is "liking" something in the first place, and what that means. It all starts to break down when people friend anyone will-nilly, or sell their friendship to bots.

      The problem is that friendship on Facebook (or Google Plus, for that matter) is an exhaustible resource. They'd probably kill fake accounts dead if they rationed the number of friends you're allowed to make, and only allowed people to create new accounts on the basis of several invitations and community rating -- essentially a proper web of trust.

      Of course the whole business model for these sorts of sites is to bilk advertisers with clickfraud, and bots with phony accounts are a great way of doing that, so the goal isn't to eliminate phony accounts or friend relations, but to find the perfect balance of just enough humans to make the ads profitable, and advertisers feel like they're actually hitting an eyeball every now and then.

      • can't we just stop feeding them? the advertisers i mean. can't we just shove them all into the grand canyon or put them into orbit? i mean, wtf.
      • by tompaulco (629533)
        find the perfect balance of just enough humans to make the ads profitable, and advertisers feel like they're actually hitting an eyeball every now and then.
        All they really need to do is convince people that the ads are profitable. They probably aren't, even if every hit actually was a real eyeball, but the whole purpose of the marketing department is to make the client believe that the money they are spending actually results in more sales.
    • hundred thousand - hmmm - so all you need is 1 million likes to show a profit, which is generally how spamvertising works.
    • One "like" from a "friend" is worth a hundred thousand likes from random strangers (even if they're real people). And one detailed comment about a product from an actual trusted friend is worth more than a hundred thousand likes from friends.

      That must be why they pay me so well for killing peoples' friends and replacing them with eerily lifelike spamdroids... I always wondered.

    • One "like" from a "friend" is worth a hundred thousand likes from random strangers (even if they're real people). And one detailed comment about a product from an actual trusted friend is worth more than a hundred thousand likes from friends.

      What? People actually pay attention to "Likes" and "+1s" and such? Then again, somebody (or some-bot) actually clicked a button so it has to be important, right?

      Maybe we should think about it like this: "Facebook Likes, number of Twitter followers, Google +1s and similar can have a powerful effect on the weak minded" --Obi Wan Kenobi

  • Why use twitter (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:16PM (#40906355)

    fake Twitter accounts that are being used to sell fake Twitter followers

    Why use twitter? It sounds more and more like that fight club speech WRT doing work at jobs we hate to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like. Is there anyone still using twitter who is not a bot, bot dealer, or PR shill?

    • by jkflying (2190798)

      Politicians...

      • by cfulton (543949)

        Is there anyone still using twitter who is not a bot, bot dealer, or PR shill?

        Politicians...

        I don't know I would qualify those who work for politicians as PR shills so maybe they were covered.

  • A better way to garner likes/follows is to offer something for it.

    "Chance to win a free (item of desire), just retweet this and follow!"
    "Receive free in-game armor for liking our game!"

    or the one I actually make a fake facebook account to do on my defensive driving course...
    "Like this service on Facebook and get the audio tracks for free!"
  • You can buy followers for FRIENDS or ENEMIES.

    As such, someone may have bought you followers.

    Imagine as a jr. high bullying move - buying 5000 twitter followers for the unpopular kid.

    Then - announcing that unpopular kid has paid for followers.

    Ha ha for everyone but the victim. (On the bright side, unpopular kid now has 5000 followers in addition to the kid's mom!)

    • You can be more subtle than that. For example, buy a load of followers / friends for a Republican candidate that spend most of their time posting Hitler quotes, or for a Democrat candidate that spend most of their time posting Stalin quotes. Then use the same 'look what crazy people support this candidate' technique that worked so well on the Tea Party and OWS.
  • Companies can already buy-in to get time, space, words or street creed in every media format. How is this different than Mittten's coughing up an ad during your favorite futurama episode?
  • The actual problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ryanrule (1657199) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:23PM (#40906435)

    is advertising. It needs to be pretty much removed from modern life. Attracts the slimiest motherfuckers.

    • by gottabeme (590848)

      Advertising, per se, is not the problem (as much as I hate ads). The problem is greed. The problem is evil.

      • Advertising, per se, is not the problem (as much as I hate ads). The problem is greed. The problem is evil.

        Advertising is a problem, because advertising is just en euphemism for lying.

    • by zentigger (203922)

      Yeah, but then we might actually have to pay for things ourselves. Biliking large corporations from their advertisign dollars to allow users access to a service without having to undertake a monetary transaction ("free") is really the only sort of taxation we can expect these days. There will always be cons, shills and marks. As long as you accept that, then you have a pretty good chance to avoid being one of the latter.

      • Yep advertising can be good, a great way to fleece stupid companies into supporting things that we like for no good reason. It's the bread and butter of free online services and a lot of sports.

    • by Mansing (42708)

      It needs to be pretty much removed from modern life. Attracts the slimiest motherfuckers.

      No, no, no! Advertising keeps all of them in single location! Much easier to target them!

  • there is a perception that anonymous accounts must be stamped out by google, facebook, twitter, etc. wrong approach

    in truth, let anonymous accounts blossom by the ten, hundred, or thousandfold

    instead, the option should be provided for people to choose one of their accounts to be certified as real, whatever that process may be (the process must be thought out, you can hack anything, but the process must be as foolproof as possible)

    people who want real metrics, real voting, real value, real financials, etc., can therefore choose to refrain certian transactions to only certified accounts. then let the bilgewater anonymous drek do as it wants, not affecting those things which the internet holds great promise to do, but is currently held back to due anonymous douchebaggery

    ps: of course there are valid uses for anonymity. i don't need to the hear the arguments for anonymity, i understand them. you need to understand i am making a place for anonymity in this scheme of certification, and you also need to understand that there is plenty the internet promises to do (such as voting and certain financial transactions) that anonymity ruins

    so the emphasis then becomes on not negative proof: stamping out every anonymous account, which is impossible and a ridiculously huge undertaking. the emphasis becomes one of positive proof: self-chosen inclusiveness and opt-in. for those who choose not to be anonymous, certain new abilities on the internet become possible. for everyone else who chooses to remain anonymous, carry on, status quo unaffected

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:29PM (#40906515)

    I think conservatives prefer Twitter, because what passes for "thinking" for the Right are slogans and canned talking points that fit into 140 characters.

    Might also explain why up-and-coming tory politicians on both sides of the pond keep getting caught buying thousands of fake Twitter followers. It boosts their credibility with those who swim in the shallower end of the gene pool, in a manner of speaking...

    • by Revotron (1115029)
      Yeah, because "Hope", "Yes We Can", "Our Time For Change", and "Change we can believe in" are all totally longer than 140 characters. Partisan tool.
      • by jkflying (2190798)

        Obama is also a Conservative, he just happens to be a member of the Democratic conservative party instead of the Republican neo-conservative party.

  • For those of your lucky enough to have friended family teens on FB, or maybe you are one, but if you haven't noticed there are a ton of entities out there making teen-oriented versus-oriented info graphics that encourage "like" or "share" (i.e. iphone: like, blakberry: share). I figure this has to be a not-so-elaborate way of getting info on users preferences. But the teenage demographic seems targeted. And all this has to be a reason. There's also the get "2000 friends posts" just by liking this.

    I want to

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:25PM (#40907269) Homepage

    Our paper from November 2011, "Social is bad for search, and search is bad for social" [sitetruth.com], covered this last year.

    Barracuda Networks doesn't even seem to have published a paper. (The article linked in the Slashdot article is a scraper site for press releases.) The Barracuda press release [barracudanetworks.com] points to an "infographic" [barracudalabs.com] and a blog posting [barracudalabs.com] which, as their only outside source, links to a black hat site. [fiverr.com]

    Barracuda doesn't seem to have discovered the extent of the social spamming ecosystem. We identified at least 6 levels:

    • Advertising agencies.
    • SEO firms. ("Google Places Guaranteed")
    • Fake review, "like", "+1", and "retweet" generators. ("Buy Facebook Fans with us today and watch your popularity boom.")
    • Fake account generators, both automated and outsourced to low-wage countries. ("Bulk Accounts is the largest mass account generator out there. ...Gmail, Myspace, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail and much more...")
    • Fake IP address proxies and fake phone numbers ("Premium Private Proxies", "Top Quality CL Phone Numbers used to create Craigslist PVAs")
    • Botnet operators providing proxies on compromised machines. Now we're down at the organized crime level.

    This structure insulates the legitimate businesses who use ad agencies from the criminal activity at the bottom. Except for the botnet operators, everybody in that ecosystem has some kind of web presence, although towards the bottom, they usually have only Skype and Gmail accounts as contacts. I'm not going to link to them here, but our paper gives actual names.

  • That's why I never took Klout.com seriously.
  • There are two kinds of fake Facebook accounts.

    The first kind are ones that are just spambots.

    The second kind are ones where the people using them, due to the pervy privacy-hating nature of Facebook, don't give personal information like their cell phone number or other data and refuse to let themselves be facially identified.

    Please be precise.

    There are also ones for children (like my sisters have for their kids, but only the mom knows the password and uploads pics and approves all postings), pets (similar, i

  • How much do high scoring slashdot comments cost?

10 to the 12th power microphones = 1 Megaphone

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