REPORT: Facebook Spammers Raking In $200M/Year

By David Cohen 

Despite continuous efforts by Facebook to curb spam, it still represents a lucrative opportunity, as Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli told The Guardian spammers who post links to Facebook pages, which direct users to third-party scam sites, are earning about $200 million per year for their troubles.

The researchers told the newspaper that spammers often use link-shortening services such as TinyURL and to disguise the destinations they are trying to lure Facebook users to, but those link-shortening services also allow researchers to determine how many users have clicked those links.

Stroppa and De Micheli told The Guardian Google is indirectly benefiting, as well, as about 9 percent of the spam pages they studied used Google AdSense, giving the search-engine giant a cut of the profits.

De Micheli told the newspaper:

The spam posters get paid an average of $13 per post for pages that have around 30,000 fans, up to an average of $58 to post on pages with more than 100,000 fans. If we consider these two as extremes, the pages we analyzed generate 18,000 posts per day, times the revenue per post — ranging from $13 to $58 — 365 days per year.

Third parties pay spammers to post their links on Facebook pages to reach the largest amount of users possible.

We notice that it is rather common for the landing page to be a product on an ecommerce site made to monetize quickly rather than to generate traffic on a homepage. Links to YouTube can be used to generate views, so money-view generation on YouTube is a fast-growing market.

The researchers told The Guardian that one spammer told them via Skype:

Facebook doesn’t ban us, simply because we generate the content on Facebook itself. Every day, 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 every day? You see: The answer is simple.

A Facebook spokesperson responded to The Guardian with the following statement:

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.

In the meantime, we have been blocking people from clicking through the links and have reported the bad browser extensions to the appropriate parties. We believe only a small percentage of our users were affected by this issue, and we are currently working with them to ensure that they’ve removed the bad browser extension. We will keep improving our systems to ensure that people continue to have a safe experience on Facebook.

Readers: Have you ever been victimized by spam links?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.