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Hidden industry dupes social media users

In Big Brother on December 17, 2011 at 12:11 am

By Tom Simonite

Paying people to influence discussions in social media is big business in China and the U.S.

A trawl of Chinese crowdsourcing websites—where people can earn a few pennies for small jobs such as labeling images—has uncovered a multimillion-dollar industry that pays hundreds of thousands of people to distort interactions in social networks and to post spam.

The report’s authors, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, also found evidence that crowdsourcing sites in the U.S. are similarly dominated by ethically questionable jobs. They conclude that the rapid growth of this way of making money will make paid shills a serious security problem for websites and those who use them around the world. A paper describing their results is available on the Arxiv pre-print server.

Ben Zhao, an associate professor of computer science at UCSB (and a TR35 winner in 2006), started looking into the largely uncharted crowdsourcing industry in China after working closely with RenRen, a social network that is sometimes called the “Facebook of China,” to track malicious activity on the site. Zhao was intrigued to see a lot of relatively sophisticated attempts to send spam and promote brands by users that appeared to be working with specific agendas.

When he and colleagues investigated the source of that activity, the team was surprised by what it found, says Zhao: “Evil crowdsourcing on a very large scale.” Influencing public opinion with fake “grassroots” activity is known as astroturfing, leading Zhao to coin the term “crowdturfing,” since it is done via large crowdsourcing sites.

The researchers discovered that a large amount of the suspect activity in China originated from two crowdsourcing sites: Zhubajie, the largest in China, and Sandaha. There, people are openly offered the equivalent…

Full article…

 

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