Two recent articles were real eye-openers – providing a behind-the-scenes look at the Internet crime underworld. And not the usual stories of phishing or stealing our identity or credit card numbers.
Ad Age’s Inside Google’s Secret War Against Ad Fraud follows a team of elite “fraud fighters” investigating the army of bots that account for an ungodly amount of the clicks on digital display ads. According to fraud-fighting firm, White Ops, and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), these techno-criminals will waste $6.3 billion in digital advertising dollars in 2015 alone.
There are a number of cool insights on how the criminals and crime-fighters work. One example is the pattern of where clicks from robots vs. humans tend to cluster over the surface of a display ad.
Another great read was in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, entitled The Agency, with the following lead in:
From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.
Here American Journalist Adrian Chen goes hunts down the various players in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine. It’s estimated that several hundred young, tech-savvy Russians are employed by the state to work in “troll farms” posting Putin-friendly messages via 1,000s of fake social media accounts.
It is truly amazing the power this may have to shape public opinion in Russia – particularly given the composition of internet users there. Up until recently, it was mostly the literati intellectuals who were online regularly. Now still only 50% of Russians have online access – with a much greater proportion of the lesser-educated masses who “believe what they read online.” And Putin is establishing a strong propaganda beachhead there for when the remaining 50% come online.
As Chen described it on Twitter, his trip to Russia “got weird.” By the time he left, he learned that the person one of his interview subjects introduced as her “brother” was actually a notorious neo-Nazi – basically a plant to fuel a social media based smear campaign against Chen himself.
Wow! Some great reading!
Not to cause too much alarm, but these are a good reminder of how easy the web makes it to manipulate information – and to continue to be diligent, whether it’s reviewing international news or ad campaign performance reports.