Click farms: a problem for the advertising economy
A click farm is a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers are hired to click on paid advertising links in the fraudster’s websites in the purpose of generating advertising revenue.
Workers click on a link, surf the target site for a certain period of time and if possible subscribe to the site’s newsletter before clicking on another link. For many of these workers, clicking ads each day increases their income and offers an alternative to other types of work. This simulated traffic is difficult to detect by an automatic filter since the behavior of the visitor is exactly the same as that of a legitimate visitor.
At the beginning of 2019, Le Monde wrote that “10 to 30% of digital advertising investments would be affected by various forms of fraud“. Click farms can also affect likes on content sites.
Why is this a problem?
Click farms create a black market of notoriety by selling like and sharing. Pay to boost the popularity of a brand or a politician: the practice reinforces the fake news. With false accounts increasingly difficult to detect, it may continue.
A risk of political manipulation
Click farms can manipulate brand notoriety, but they are all the more worrisome because they can be the tool of politicians or states.
In 2015 already, the Business Insider was surprised to see only 42% of Americans in Donald Trump subscribers on Facebook. The rest came from developing countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, or Indonesia, countries where click farms are.
Fake accounts on social networks
In 2015, a Chinese microblogging platform, Weibo, launched a campaign to eradicate these “zombie fans”. Mailman Group, an agency specializing in digital, then gave an overview of the proportion of fake fans discovered for certain accounts : of its 10 million fans, chinese pop singer Wei Wei had lost 8 million in a week, the account of the NBA, 323 000 and the airline company Spring Airlines, 175 000.
The problem is far from being confined to Chinese networks. According to a study of South Carolina and Indiana universities published in 2017, Twitter has 48 million “robot” accounts on its 319 million users. And in April, shortly before the French presidential election, Facebook announced the deactivation of 30 000 fake accounts spreading false information.
What are the possible solutions ?
Is an action of the authorities possible ?
According to Luc-Marie Augagneur, a lawyer specialized in the digital economy, the difficulty is especially in the identification and the repression of the phenomenon : « Click farms are almost always in countries not very accessible. French authorities may be able to detect when there are fake followers, but on the other hand, to find the origin, they will be totally destitute. As soon as there are elements of extraterritoriality, investigations are stopped quickly in this kind of business ».
Authentication by Blockchain
51% of traffic comes from the activity of robots thus constituting a problem for all advertisers who lose half of their budget. How to react to this phenomenon ?
Operating in a decentralized manner through the Blockchain to authenticate the traffic makes it possible to authenticate the traffic. As a result, the actual reach of campaigns is visible and prices are fairer.