As people increasingly discover that searching on the open Web can return untrustworthy results, they'll be more inclined to turn to their "social graph" -- the group of people with whom they are connected on Facebook , Twitter and other social sites.
In theory, and in reality at present, this makes a lot of sense. After all, if you can't trust your family and friends, who can you trust?
The major social networks and search engines are fueling the trend. Google and Bing offer limited results on some searches based on what your Twitter, Facebook or Buzz followers have posted. The idea is that if you're looking to buy something, your peer group or loved ones are both more relevant and more trusted.
And that's why your social graph is the next ripe target for shady marketers. As services increasingly enable you to search for things influenced by your social graph, spammer types will try to infiltrate your social group and sway the results. Here's how they'll do it:
1. Become your friend. If you're on Facebook, you may have already seen this happening. You get a "friend" request from a total stranger. Oftentimes these new "friends" are conspicuously attractive -- at least, according to their fake profile pictures. They may or may not engage you in flattering conversation. If you're inclined to friend strangers, you may get a half-dozen or more such new "friends" and they may all be the same person or same company. Then, all those "friends" start talking about, advocating, "Liking" or linking to a specific site or brand. Or, they may offer their "influence" to the highest bidder, in which case they may advocate a whole bunch of products. When you go searching your social graph, guess what a majority of your friends "recommend"?
2. Impersonate your friends. Another even more unscrupulous method is to impersonate your real friends. There are two basic ways to do this. First, they may befriend you as a stranger on more than one social network. Then they can see which of your actual friends are "friended" on one network but not the other. In those cases, they can pose as the missing friend. And, of course, you'll accept. The second method is to simply duplicate some of your friends. You might accept the request, believing that your friend is "starting over" or forgetting that you already have a connection.
3. Hack your account and friend themselves. Hackers employ a wide range of methods to hack into your various accounts. Phishing or, more reliably, guessing your password gets them in the door of a social network site posing as you. Once they're logged into your Facebook or other account, they can "friend" their own phony accounts while posing as you. If you have a lot of friends, you may not notice.
Illegitimate marketer-hackers will come up with other schemes to poison your social graph with shady "marketing."
The bottom line is that spamming is coming to the social networks. And they'll do it without your knowledge if they can, and without your permission if they must.
Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.