Have you ever clicked over to check your Facebook feed only to get slapped in the eyeballs with a giant screaming ad for ACAI BERRY DIET ENDR0RSED BY DR OZ!!11!!! Of course you have, because as hard as Facebook works to get rid of scams, hoaxes, and malware, they can't keep up with the slimy bastards that are infiltrating the site.
I've wondered more than once why spam doesn't just disappear -- at this point, doesn't it seem like most of us are savvy enough to recognize a request to "Click here for a free iPhone!!" as the phony offer it is? But according to the data recently shared with The Guardian by a team of Italian security researchers, Facebook spam is here to stay. Because -- I hope you're sitting down for this -- spammers who post bogus links to Facebook pages are earning about $200 million per year for their efforts.
$200. MILLION. Hell, I might consider going into the spam business for that kind of cash.
These security experts say that spammers typically use link-shortening services such as TinyURL and bit.ly to mask the true destination of the link, and Google is raking in some cash from these scam artists' services, because about 9 percent of the spam pages they studied were using Google AdSense. But the real money goes to the folks who are busy posting those ripoff links:
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.
The average in earnings studied was just over $200 million annually. Sleazy third parties are paying the spammers to post these links, and the spammers themselves say they provide a valuable service. According to one spammer who spoke with the research team via Skype,
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.
Some spammers are setting up fake fan pages and start selling links once they've built enough enough Likes for the page. Others use aggregate websites to sell their "black marketing" talents -- they're freelance spam-creators.
It's bad enough to know people are making so much cash from this site-sullying practice, but the competition for profits really makes folks sink to despicable levels. Example: the research team actually found somebody who was selling a page dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Boston terrorist attack for $1,000.
As for Facebook, they say protecting its users is a "top priority," and they have a number of systems in place to identify potentially harmful links:
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.
They can keep trying, but as long as spammers are being rewarded so handsomely for their enterprising content creation and crummy links, they'll keep coming back.
Did you have any idea Facebook spammers could make this much money per year?
Image via spanishalex/Flickr