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Online IDs: up to 40 percent may be fake, casting doubt on Web usage stats

Online IDs: up to 40 percent may be fake, casting doubt on Web usage stats

Posting in Technology

New data on more than 104 million social media transactions collected the past three months reveals high levels of fraudulent accounts.

Social networking and connectivity are great things, but are increasingly coming under abuse, by social spammers assuming fraudulent IDs. That's one of the conclusions drawn by Impermium in a new report exploring the types and severity of social web spam and abuse. Impermium concludes that not only are social web attacks growing exponentially in number, but there is an increasing sophistication to the tactics used by spammers. In addition, the study's authors observe, with the proliferation of fake online IDs, user growth stats for company Web communities may not be as accurate as thought.

Impermium's report is based on more than 104 million social media transactions collected over a 100-day period between June and August of 2011, from a base of more than 90 million users spread across 72 countries.  Transactions analyzed include user-generated content posted on social networks, blogs, and social-bookmarking sites.

Impermium estimates that fraudulent accounts may range from a low of 5% to 40% of users. "Scammers are registering accounts by the millions as they perpetrate fake 'friend requests,' deceptive tweets, and the like, while the black market for bulk social networking accounts is growing exponentially," the study's authors caution. This has implications for site owners, as rampant registration fraud may hamper a company’s ability to accurately value its user base and determine the actual cost of new customer acquisition.

The report also finds that Uggs was the #1 most exploited brand in social media channels by a factor of 2x over Gucci and 5x over Prada. The top consumer categories for social web spam were fashion and electronics.

Surprisingly, Impermium also reports that legitimate small businesses also seem to be getting into the social web spam game.  Impermium’s research found a growing number of small businesses, such as local restaurants and airport shuttle services, "are reacting to the difficult economy by expanding into spam." Yikes.

(Source: Impermium, via Creative Commons License.)

Cross-posted at ZDNet's Service-Oriented site.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure