Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fake Profiles Part 1 - MySpace

Tags: fake profiles, internet marketers, myspace, spam

Okay, so it's probably not a mystery that MySpace is filled with fake profiles, but do you know why those fake profiles exist? Why do people spend the time creating them? Well, with MySpace having such a huge pool of users, it's the perfect place for some bulk marketing (aka, spamming).

You see, there are a whole lot of internet marketers out there - and I use the term loosely - who are looking for any way possible to spread their links to as many people as possible. These links are usually to affiliate products and websites where the "marketer" gets a cut (either per sale or sometimes per so many visitors). Since MySpace has such a huge userbase and has some marketing friendly features (nameley sending bulletins to friends) it makes for a great source of Web victims.

Did you know MySpace profiles are being bought and sold as we speak? Yup, the price goes up and down quite often, but a general guide is that a profile goes for about $10 for every 1000 friends the account has. Bulletins are sold as well. You can find people who are willing to send bulletins to their "friends" for about $1 per 1000 friends. So for example, you could either buy an account that has 5000 friends for $50 or perhaps just have that person send a bulletin to the 5000 for $5.

Okay. So some of you are probably doing the math on all this and coming up with the conclusion that it's a hell of a lot of work to build up thousands of friends merely to sell the account (or bulletins) for such a small amount. Well you'd be right. It'd definitely be a lot of work if they were doing it all themselves. However, most of these people are either outsourcing the work for incredibly cheap prices or, more likely, are automating the whole process with scripts that auto send and accept friend requests. Many times these accounts have inflated friend numbers because they're using scripts that basically just add friends of other people with fake accounts. This means that if you decide to buy any of these accounts or bulletins, you're really getting a fairly worthless friendlist.

At this point, let me just say that this whole process isn't limited to MySpace. Most online social networks can be targetted in the same way (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc.). MySpace is probably the biggest target right now (though it's fading as it's popularity shrinks), which is why I've focused on it here.

This being Net Morality let's look how how incredibly unethical the whole process is.

First, these people are basically committing fraud by posing as somebody they aren't (such as a smoking hot 23 year old) while trying to market something to people. Oh, and besides being unethical, fraud is against the law so hopefully it's just a matter of time before the courts eventually catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to the Web and start cracking down on this stuff.

Second, people who are selling the fake accounts are usually selling lies. Selling contact lists is nothing new and has been around since before the internet came to be. However, these MySpace lists are rarely ever opt-in and usually contain so many fake leads that they are completely worthless. False advertising is a term we all know and hate, and that's what's going on here.

Third, while these people don't care, they are wasting the time and energy of everybody they send friend requests to. They are flooding MySpace with so much filth that it's hurting the service. They are making the site less and less usable because more and more profiles are fakes just looking to scam and spam their next victims. They make MySpace spend resources trying to combat the problem, and while some measures work for awhile, the spammers usually don't take long finding a work around.

If you're one of these MySpace exploiters, there's probably little I can say to persuade you to change. You want your quick buck and since you can hide behind your computer, you don't really care how you make your money or who you hurt. Think about this though. What do you tell your friends when they ask you how you make your money online? Do you explain to them that you fraudulently acquire contact lists then spam those lists? Or do you just lie to your friends like you lie online and just say that you're an "internet marketer"? Is taking pride in your work not something you care about?

So what can you do as an innocent MySpace user? Well it's pretty obvious - make your profile private and only accept friends that you actually know. That may not work for some of you though if you're looking to meet new people online. In that case, just try to use some common sense when reading other people's profiles. If that smoking hot 23 year old college girl with tons of revealing photos wants to be your friend, perhaps it's best to move on.

Of course, you could always just do what I do and avoid MySpace altogether.

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