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‘Click Farms’ And The Value Of Online Advertisements


    Right now, somewhere in the Philippines, offices filled with virtual impostors are being paid to assume the identities of thousands of people who do not actually exist. The purpose?to take advantage of the poorly regulated advertising markets that exist through social media websites and search engines like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Employees spend their workdays crafting hundreds of realistic profiles to the specific orders of middlemen known as “click farms” who in turn use the accounts to provide thousands of likes, followers, or clicks on advertisements. The article points to evidence which estimates “the market for fake Twitter followers was worth between $40 million and $360 million in 2013, and that the market for Facebook spam was worth $87 million to $390 million” which corresponds perfectly with the estimation that an astounding “7 percent of Facebook’s 1.4 billion accounts and 8.5 percent of Twitter’s 230 million accounts were fake or duplicate.” Of course, it is in the best interest of these social networks to downplay the significance of these fake accounts, as the overwhelming majority of their revenue comes from on-site advertisements. If a company is unknowingly marketing to non-existent people, how can they possibly determine a value for the traffic on their ads?

     The very concept of a ‘click farm’ undermines the purpose and principle of matching markets, and concepts like the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves mechanism, and second price auctions, as they all rely on a company determining true values for an advertising slot. Derek Muller, a podcaster who paid Facebook to advertise his product, found only a 1% engagement from the over 80,000 likes he gained through his ads. An analysis of the clicks showed a majority came from individuals in “Egypt, India, the Philippines, (and) Pakistan” where click farms are most likely to be found. While the obvious choice would be to limit your demographic to a country like the U.S, there is nothing preventing a U.S based click farm from skewing  the data collected  from your advertisements. While it may have previously been obvious for a business to determine how much ‘like’ or a ‘click’ is worth to them, the increasing uncertainty of whether or not these clicks come from actual people means that formulating a value is an increasingly precarious venture. But major companies do not seem to have caught onto this trend yet, Facebook alone has seen an average 9% increase in ad prices per year and an astounding 220% in 2016 alone.If Companies value the quantity of likes on their page rather than the quality of likes, perhaps for the appearance of internet influence, then ‘click farms’ do not pose a problem. But for companies that are concerned with the quality and value of these exchanges, they must not rely on clicks or likes, but instead rely on verifiable data that determines how users engage with their content.

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October 2017