Let's call Facebook what it really is

Fakebook? Facebots? Either way, Facebook needs to address its 83 million fake accounts -- many linked to click fraud -- before its reputation slides further

Just when Zuckerberg et al thought it couldn't get any worse, it gets worse.

Ever since its IPO in May, Facebook's stock price has been circling the big drain like a beloved family goldfish. (What was his name again?) Zucky's personal wealth dropped to a mere $12.1 billion last week, according to Bloomberg Business Week. He probably can't even rate a corner booth at Buck's with that paltry fortune.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely sends a warning to Facebook in "Anatomy of an Internet death spiral." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Now it seems that Facebook is riddled with fake profiles -- some 83 million of them, according to its own estimates. In an SEC filing this week, the social network admitted that 8.7 percent of its 955 million active members are using duplicate or false accounts. Of those, about half are simply duplicate accounts for legit Facebook members, the company says. Another third or so are personal accounts for businesses, organizations, or pets that really should be Facebook Pages. What's left are the problem children: the 15 million or so bot accounts that are used for spamming, malware distribution, and click fraud.

If you've been following Facebook lately, that news should hardly come as a surprise. In June, ITworld's Thank You For Not Sharing blogger Dan Tynan wrote a series of posts on the seemingly endless Facebook bots he's been encountering lately. Those bots were employed to artificially boost the Likes on the Facebook pages for small businesses -- sometimes without the businesses even being aware of it.

Last month, BBC reporter Rory Cellan-Jones set up a Facebook Page for a fake product called Virtual Bagel and bought some Facebook ads to promote it. Within a few days, the page recorded more than 3,000 Likes -- at least some of which came from fake accounts. Of course, every time someone clicks an ad, Facebook makes a few pennies; it doesn't matter whether the clicker is human or not.

Now we have examples of real companies bailing out of Facebook, thanks to fake clicks. Over the past few months tiny Web music e-tailer Limited Run (formerly Limited Pressing) bought some Facebook ads to promote its newly launched site, but it noticed something funky going on. Four out of every five clicks on its ads appeared to be from bots. Limited Run decided to bail on Facebook, but first, the employees wrote a blog post about the decision -- and about Facebook's demands for $2,000 a month to let the company change the name of the Facebook page:

Facebook was charging us for clicks, yet we could only verify about 20% of them actually showing up on our site. ... So we did what any good developers would do. We built a page logger. Any time a page was loaded, we'd keep track of it. You know what we found? The 80% of clicks we were paying for were from bots. That's correct. Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs. So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn't reply. Do we know who the bots belong too? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue. No. Is it strange? Yes.

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