Click farm

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A click farm is a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers is hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster (click farm master or click farmer). The workers click the links, surf the target website for a period of time, and possibly sign up for newsletters prior to clicking another link. For many of these workers, clicking on enough ads per day may increase their revenue substantially and may also be an alternative to other types of work. It is extremely difficult for an automated filter to detect this simulated traffic as fake because the visitor behavior appears exactly the same as that of an actual legitimate visitor.[1] Fake likes generating from click farms are essentially different from those arising from computer bots where computer programs are written by software experts. To deal with such issues, companies such as Facebook are trying to create algorithms that seek to wipe out accounts with unusual activities[2] (i.e. liking too many pages at one go)

Click Farms[edit]

Producers[edit]

Click farms are usually located in developing countries, such as India, Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal. According to Sharaf al-Nomani, Shareyt’s owners in an undercover meeting, 30-40% of the clicks come from Bangladesh.[3] Click farms extends to likes and followers on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more. Workers are paid on an average, one US dollar for a thousand likes or follow a thousand people on Twitter.[4] On the other hand, click farms companies are selling their likes and followers at a high cost - “BuyPlusFollowers sells 250 Google+ shares for $12.95. InstagramEngine sells 1,000 followers for $12. AuthenticHits sells 1,000 SoundCloud plays for $9.” [5]

Need for Click Farms[edit]

It was found that “31% will check ratings and reviews, including likes and Twitter followers, before they choose to buy something”.[6] This shows the increasing importance that businesses, celebrities and other organisations put on the number of likes and followers they have. This creates monetary values for likes and followers which means that businesses and celebrities feel compelled to increase their likes to create a positive online profile.

Filtering[edit]

Pay-per-click providers, including Google, Yahoo!, and MSN, have made substantial efforts to combat click fraud. Automated filters remove most click fraud attempts at the source. According to Deanna Yick, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based Google, she said that “We design our systems to catch bot-related attacks.” “Because a significant amount of malicious traffic is automated, advertisers are protected from these kinds of attacks.” she added.[7] In an effort to circumvent these filtering systems, click fraudsters have begun to use these click farms to simulate actual visitors.

Methods[edit]

The first method is by hiring competitor fraudsters to deplete the advertising budget of the competitor so that they will be able to have their ads shown in higher pay-per-click rankings at a lower cost.[8] In this case, the competitor is weakened instead of being outbid in the pay-per-click bidding system. The investment on the click farm made by the fraudster is only a very small fraction of the amount lost by the competitor.

The second method is by hiring the click farm workers to click on ads on the click farmer's own site. This way, the money lost by the advertisers is gained by the click farmer, rather than by the search engines and content networks as in the first method.[9]

Implications[edit]

Engagement Rate[edit]

Engagement rate is a performance metric that measures the quality of social media activity such as Facebook likes or Twitter retweets. Engagement per follower is one form of engagement rate. It is measured by dividing the raw counts of social media activity by the number of followers.[10] Users who engage in short term click farms services will see their engagement rate plummet in time as the initial increase in the volume of social media activity drops when the click farms services end, coupled with the increase in fake followers if not the same.[11]

Revenue Issues[edit]

Italian security researchers and bloggers Andrea Stroppa and Carla De Micheli found out in 2013 that $40 million to $360 million to date were earned from the sale of and the potential benefits of buying fake Twitter followers. $200 million a year is also earned from fake Facebook activities.[12]

About 40 to 80 percent of Facebook advertisements are bought on a pay-per-click basis. Advertisers have claimed that about 20 percent of Facebook clicks are invalid and they had tried to seek refunds.[13] This could cost Facebook $2.494 billion based on their revenue in 2014.[14]

Legal Issues[edit]

Although click farms services violates social media user policy, there is no government regulations that render them illegal.[15] However, Sam DeSilva, a lawyer specialising in IT and outsourcing law at Manches LLP in Oxford had mentioned that: "Potentially, a number of laws are being breached – the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it's misleading the individual consumers." [16]

Company Responses[edit]

Advertising clients: Coca-Cola made its 2010 Super Bowl advert “Hard Times” private after learning it was shared on Shareyt and issued statement that it “did not approve of fake fans.” [17] The sharing on Shareyt has possibly contributed to additional 6 million views.

Hasbro was alerted to an online casino, a sub-licensee of its Monopoly brand had added fake Facebook likes and hence contacted Facebook to remove the site. Hasbro issued a statement that it was “appalled to hear of what had occurred” and claimed no previous knowledge of the page.[18]

Advertising Providers[edit]

Facebook issued a statement on its response: "A like that doesn't come from someone truly interested in connecting with the brand benefits no one. If you run a Facebook page and someone offers you a boost in your fan count in return for money, our advice is to walk away – not least because it is against our rules and there is a good chance those likes will be deleted by our automatic systems. We investigate and monitor "like-vendors" and if we find that they are selling fake likes, or generating conversations from fake profiles, we will quickly block them from our platform." [19] Andrea Faville reports that “Google and YouTube take action against bad actors that seek to game our systems.” [20] LinkedIn spokesman Doug Madey said buying connections "dilutes the member experience violates their user agreement and can also prompt account closures.”[21] Chief executive and founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom reports "We've been deactivating spammy accounts from Instagram on an ongoing basis to improve your experience." [22]

Purging of Likes and Followers[edit]

The Facebook purging of fake likes and accounts occurred during August to September 2012.[23] An estimated 83 million false accounts were deleted. Approximately 11.2% of 1.3 billion accounts were fake according to Facebook’s 2014 financial report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.[24] Likester reported pages affected include Lady Gaga, who lost 65,505 fans and Facebook, who lost 124,919 fake likes.[25] Technology giant Dell lost 2.87% of its likes, 107,889 likes in 24 hours.[26] Billions of YouTube video fake views were deleted after being exposed by auditors.[27] In December 2014, Instagram carried out a purge deemed the "Instagram Rapture" where many accounts were affected, including Instagram's own account who lost a massive 18,880,211 followers.[28]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ M. Lee. "What is a click farm" October 15, 2007, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  2. ^ Delco, C. "Facebook Moves to Wipe Out Fake 'Likes,' But Can't Do Anything About Fat Fingers.", December 31, 2012, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  3. ^ Arthur, C. "Facebook Is Riddled With Click Farms Where Workers Sit In Dingy Rooms, Bars On The Windows, Generating 1,000 Likes For $1., August 2, 2013, Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  4. ^ Rijk, J. "The Click Farms Are Back; Now Producing Fake Likes, Followers and Views", August 5, 2013, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  5. ^ Daily Mail. "Celebrities, businesses and government departments buying bogus Facebook likes and fake Twitter followers from 'click farms' ", January 6, 2014, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  6. ^ Arthur, C. "How low-paid workers at 'click farms' create appearance of online popularity., The Guardian, August 2, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  7. ^ Gullo, K., & Burrows, P. "Microsoft Sues Over Online Advertising 'Click Fraud'", May 20, 2010, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  8. ^ M. Lee. "What is a click farm" October 15, 2007, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  9. ^ M. Lee. "What is a click farm" October 15, 2007, Retrieved April 15, 2015
  10. ^ Yamaguchi, K. "How to Calculate Engagement Rate for Social Media Marketing., September 23, 2014. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  11. ^ Marketsmith, Inc. "Fake Likes put Facebook in Hot Water with Advertisers., Marketsmith, February 21, 2014. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  12. ^ Mendoza, M. "How Facebook Likes Get Bought And Sold., The Huffington Post, May 1, 2014. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  13. ^ Edwards, J. "Here Are The Sealed Court Papers On 'Invalid Clicks' Facebook Doesn't Want You To See., Business Insider, November 5, 2012. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  14. ^ Statistica. "Facebook: Annual revenue and net income 2014., n.d. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  15. ^ Matsuura, J. "Legal Solutions Blog., November 11, 2013. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  16. ^ Arthur, C. "How low-paid workers at 'click farms' create appearance of online popularity., The Guardian, August 2, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  17. ^ Arthur, C. "How low-paid workers at 'click farms' create appearance of online popularity., The Guardian, August 2, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  18. ^ Arthur, C. "How low-paid workers at 'click farms' create appearance of online popularity., The Guardian, August 2, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  19. ^ Arthur, C. "How low-paid workers at 'click farms' create appearance of online popularity., The Guardian, August 2, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  20. ^ Mendoza, M. "Want fans? Hire a social media 'click farm', USA Today, Jan 5, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  21. ^ Mendoza, M. "Want fans? Hire a social media 'click farm', USA Today, Jan 5, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Lee, D. "Instagram deletes millions of accounts in spam purge., BBC, December 19, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Stampler, L. "These 20 Brands Lost The Most Facebook Likes The Day Of The Fake Fan Purge, The Business Insider, October 5, 2012. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  24. ^ ROBINSON, A. "Money can’t buy you love, but on Facebook it can buy you likes for anything., Pando, February 11, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  25. ^ Edwards, J. "Facebook Targets 76 Million Fake Users In War On Bogus Accounts, The Business Insider, March 5, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  26. ^ Stampler, L. "These 20 Brands Lost The Most Facebook Likes The Day Of The Fake Fan Purge., The Business Insider, October 5, 2012. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  27. ^ Mendoza, M. "Want fans? Hire a social media 'click farm', USA Today, Jan 5, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  28. ^ Lee, D. "Instagram deletes millions of accounts in spam purge., BBC, December 19, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2015.