Facebook's buzzing spam industry is worth $200 million a year

Facebook has had a spam problem for a long time now and things may just be worse than what we’ve expected...

Facebook has been facing the spam problem for a long time now and things may just be worse than what we’ve expected. According to a research conducted by a team of Italian Security researchers, the scam industry makes a gigantic $200 million a year, owing to third-party scam posts.

The team, led by Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli tried to identify and discover spam-based posts such as “Click here for a free iPhone” and its likes, with links that redirected users to sites outside of Facebook. According to a report by The Guardian, the researchers discovered that scammers get paid an average of $13 per post for pages that have about 30,000 fans and an average of $58 to post on pages that have more than 100,000 fans.

Facebook's buzzing spam industry is worth 0 million a year

A thriving industry (Background image credit: Getty Images)


"If we consider these two as extremes, the pages we analysed generate a revenue of 18,000 posts per day, times the revenue per post - ranging from $13 to $58 - 365 days a year,” De Micheli said. The researchers found it easy to study these spammy links and pages, thanks to the fact that bit.ly and tinyurl.com links were being used to shorten the destination links. You can easily track the number of clicks received by a particular link on bit.ly. The researchers even discovered that about 9 percent of the pages that users were directed to by spammers used Google AdSense. It means that Facebook does not profit by these spammy links and Google ends up getting a cut.

The market for spam is growing wide enough for some of them to even set up their own pages on Facebook and lure in fans. Once they have accumulated enough likes on their pages, they post links, redirecting unassuming users to third-party spam websites. Stroppa and De Micheli discovered that there were about 20 such key sites where spammers offered black marketing deals, where cash would be offered in return for posting spam based links.

Spammers, however, beg to differ over harm caused to Facebook with such links. One spammer told the researchers, “Facebook doesn't ban us, simply because we generate the content on Facebook itself. Everyday I materialize funny, and interesting content full of phrases and so forth that is shared and liked by thousands of users. Without the fan pages Facebook would be an empty place. Tell me how many links do you see shared by your friends on your timeline everyday? You see - the answer is simple."

Facebook feels differently about spam. A spokesperson said, "Protecting the people who use Facebook is a top priority for us, and we have developed a number of automated systems to identify potentially harmful links and stop them from spreading. Those systems quickly spotted these links, and we are working to clear them from the site now.” Meanwhile, he said, Facebook has been blocking people from clicking through these links. The bad browser extension apparently affected merely a small percentage of users and Facebook has been working toward removing the offending extension.

This research was similar to the study on how spam affects Twitter, conducted last month. A bunch of researchers went ahead and posed as scammers in order to help Twitter curb spam on its website. They purchased about 1,27,000 automated fake accounts from 27 different merchants to chart a pattern and help Twitter identify fake accounts in order to ban them. You can read more about the research here.


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