updated 04:52 pm EDT, Fri July 13, 2012
Spam accounts may lower value of ads
Companies advertising on Facebook tend to hope customers will "Like" their pages in order to maintain contact with them, but the results of a BBC investigation suggest that some of the money companies spend advertising on Facebook may in fact be wasted. The news outlet contacted security experts and social marketing professionals and found that fake profiles appear to be common on the social network. What's more, these fake profiles are responsible for thousands of "Likes" each, throwing into doubt the validity of any number of accounts that companies are advertising to.
At issue is what percentage Facebook's 901 million user accounts are fake. Facebook itself estimates the number of fakes at five to six percent of its user base; that's about 54 million profiles. According to security experts, spammers and malware authors are using those fake accounts to build networks that can trick real users into helping them spread dangerous links and spam.
For advertisers, the web of false accounts could mean that many of the "customers" they think are interested in their businesses are in fact fake accounts, directed in the thousands by a single malware author. Researchers looking into the fake accounts found that some of them had obviously false names and had "Liked" 3,000 to 5,000 pages.
Facebook charges advertisers for the kind of targeted marketing made available by user "Likes," and it is uncertain how much these fake accounts impact the efficacy of ads companies buy on the social network. Some marketing agencies have asked Facebook to investigate the number of fake accounts so as to be better able to let their clients know how many real people they would be reaching, but the social network has typically responded that the majority of accounts on the site are connected to real people.
Facebook maintains that fake profiles are not a significant problem on the site. Advertisers apparently have not complained about a wave of fake accounts either.
The efficacy of Facebook's advertising operations has been a big point of contention ever since the social network went public. Faced with the imperative to grow revenues, Facebook relies heavily on ads as an income source, but big companies have been unimpressed by their effectiveness. Subsequent modifications to the ad model have led to some rekindling of interest, though the social network is thought to still have a way to go before it can convince investors and clients of the sureness of its intended plan.