A technology forum watchdog group reported Monday that it has found more than 100 Facebook groups, some with thousands of members, where business management accounts are bought and sold, in violation of the social network’s rules.

The accounts can be used to run multiple pages and advertising campaigns, according to an investigation by the Tech Transparency Project, a Washington, D.C.-based information and research organization, creating new opportunities for online scams, misinformation and election interference. Can Impact of major technology platforms on society.

TTP Director Katie Paul told TechNewsWorld, “For years, Facebook has claimed that its artificial intelligence systems can clean its platform, but time and time again, we have found that Facebook’s technology fails to remove harmful content. that violates its policies.” “That’s unfortunately also true for this black market for ad accounts.”

TTP explained that Business Manager accounts allow social media managers and marketers to manage a collection of Facebook ad accounts, Facebook Pages, and Instagram accounts from a single dashboard. It added that Facebook’s parent company Meta promotes them as a “one-stop shop” for advertising and marketing on its platform.

The report notes that accounts are particularly valuable to scammers because business managers can run a range of advertising campaigns and easily add new users and ad accounts to expand their reach.

In Facebook groups examined by TTP, the group found that users often sold accounts for large amounts. Several accounts are linked to someone’s credit cards, it continued, indicating they were hacked or stolen. “It’s obviously a big problem for individual users or small businesses who all of a sudden have an unauthorized person racking up big charges on their card,” Paul said.

The report also found that in some cases, sellers offered approved accounts to advertise political, election and social issues.

facebook act

After being alerted to the situation, Facebook began weeding out the black market. “We removed groups that were flagged to us last week for violating our policies, and we will continue to review additional groups and remove violators.” the company said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokeswoman Erin McPike.

In addition to deleting the group, the company said it has set up checkpoints for a number of group administrators who are required to provide additional information before they can access their accounts.

Regardless of Facebook’s actions, the report says the black market raises some troubling questions for the company and its parent Meta. Given Facebook’s long-standing scam ad problem and its history with Russian election interference, it’s unclear why Meta isn’t doing more to combat this illegal trade, the report said.

Clearwater, Fla. Jenny Grisdoorn, senior manager of global social media strategy at KnowBe4, a security awareness training provider in the U.S., cited Facebook’s community guidelines as evidence of a lack of concern about fraudulent accounts. Those guidelines state, “If it appears to have been hacked or compromised and we are unable to confirm ownership of the account after one year, we may disable or delete your account.”

“That should be enough to state that Facebook doesn’t care about getting rid of these fake or hacked accounts, so it’s best that anyone who uses the platform does their part,” Grisdoorn told TechNewsworld. Protects personal information as much as possible.”

Fake Accounts, Real Revenue

Some critics of Facebook have suggested that the social network has taken a lighter touch on fraudulent accounts because they generate revenue.

“These black-market Business Manager accounts are approved to advertise on Facebook. This means that Facebook profits whenever the purchasers of these illegal accounts run ads on the platform.

“This raises new questions about how much of Facebook’s advertising revenue is coming from hacked, stolen or smuggled ad accounts,” he added.

While acknowledging that Facebook can make money from fraudulent accounts, Will Duffield, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a Washington, DC think tank, pointed out that fake accounts don’t generate as much revenue as legitimate accounts.

“There’s some incentive not to hit the problem too hard, but on the business side, every black market account means a business customer is dissatisfied because their account has been stolen,” Duffield told TechNewsWorld.

“If legitimate accounts are being stolen and turned into black market accounts, that doesn’t bode well for Facebook,” he said.

platform for election interference

Facebook has a longstanding problem with accounts being hijacked to run scam ads using people’s credit card information, TTP reports. It’s easy to see how Business Manager accounts could be useful to scammers, the report continued, given their ability to run multiple ad campaigns at once.

It said owners of Business Manager accounts have repeatedly described how hackers have taken over their accounts, raising their billing limits by raising thousands of dollars to spend on scam ads that lure people to suspicious e-mail addresses. Commerce leads to websites.

TTP’s investigation also found sellers offering accounts that could run ads on social issues, elections or politics. This raises concerns that they could be used for coordinated unauthentic activity and election interference, the report said.

“Facebook executives often speak of their efforts to prevent election interference, but at the same time, the company is facilitating a black market for accounts that can run election ads in specific countries,” Paul said.

“Facebook is essentially undermining its own election security efforts with its failure to address this issue,” she continued. “The Facebook Business Manager accounts identified by TTP are of particular concern because they can run multiple advertising campaigns at once, increasing the ability of bad actors to spread misinformation.”

Challenging work

Controlling disinformation on Facebook is a challenging problem, said Vincent Reynold, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Emerson College in Boston.

“It is extremely difficult for Facebook to identify and suppress disinformation because the expression of disinformation continues to evolve on these platforms,” ​​Raynauld told TechNewsWorld.

“If Facebook sets up a filter to catch certain types of misinformation, the creators of misinformation will adjust its structure so that it escapes the filter and impacts public conversation,” he explained.

Issues like hijacked accounts have always been a part of Facebook, he said, but the overall weight of Facebook when it comes to disinformation and its impact on political processes makes these types of issues more important to the public. .

“Social media has become an integral part of people’s daily lives, especially when it comes to accessing information that influences not only consumer decisions but political decisions as well,” he said.

A lawsuit was filed by Amazon on Tuesday against administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups accusing them of being part of a broker network for churning out fake product reviews.

In its lawsuit, Amazon alleges that administrators attempted to organize the placement of fake reviews on Amazon in exchange for money or free products. It said groups have been set up in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan to recruit people to write fake reviews on Amazon’s online store.

Amazon said in a statement posted online that it would use the information found through the lawsuit to identify bad actors and remove the reviews they commissioned from the retail website.

Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s Vice President of Selling Partner Services, said in the statement, “Our team intercepts millions of suspicious reviews before they are seen by customers, and this trial goes a step further to uncover criminals operating on social media.” ” “Proactive legal action targeting bad actors is one of many ways to protect customers by holding bad actors accountable.”

against meta policy

Meta, which owns Facebook, condemned the groups for setting up fake review mills on their infrastructure. “Groups that solicit or encourage fake reviews violate our policies and are removed,” Meta spokeswoman Jen Riding said in a statement to TechNewsWorld.

“We are working with Amazon on this matter and will continue to partner across the industry to address spam and fake reviews,” she said.

According to Meta, it has already removed most of the fraud groups cited in Amazon’s lawsuit and is actively investigating others for violating the company’s policy against fraud and deception.

It noted that it has introduced a number of tools to remove infringing content from its service, tools that use artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision to analyze specific instances of content that violate rules. Break down and identify patterns of abuse across the platform.

Is Facebook doing enough?

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy, a consumer advocacy group in the UK, praised Amazon’s action, but questioned whether Facebook was doing enough to prevent abuse of its platform.

“It is positive that Amazon has taken legal action against some of the fake review brokers operating at Facebook, which is a problem the investigation has uncovered time and again,” he said in a statement. “However, it does raise a big question mark about Facebook’s proactive action to crack down on fake review agents and protect consumers.”

“Facebook needs to explain why this activity is prevalent, and [U.K.] The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) must challenge the company to show that the action it is taking is effective,” he continued. “Otherwise, it should consider stern action against the platform.”

“The government has announced that it plans to give stronger powers to the CMA to protect consumers from the avalanche of fake reviews,” he said. “These digital markets, competition and consumer reforms should be legislated as a priority.”

Which one in 2019? released a report that estimated that 250,000 hotel reviews on the Tripadvisor website were fake. Tripadvisor dismissed the analysis in that report as “simplistic,” but in its own “Transparency” report a year later, the site found nearly one million, or 3.6%, of the reviews were fake.

no time for deep dives

“Most consumers don’t have time to dig deep into reviews,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.

“They take star ratings as a way to build trust in a product and if people are being compensated for posting fake reviews, it undermines trust in reviews,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Fake reviews not only encourage consumers to buy a substandard product, but they also make it more difficult to differentiate between products,” he said.

“If you have an overwhelming number of products in a category with four-and-a-half or five-star reviews, because many of them are participating in these fake review programs, the value of the reviews themselves are diminished,” he explained.

He acknowledged that fake reviews were a problem everywhere on the Internet. “But,” he continued, “because Amazon has such a strong position in online retailing and is often the first website consumers visit, it is disproportionately targeted by these fake review groups.”

Review mills also use bots to pad product reviews, but Rubin said the technology lacks the effectiveness of using a human. “The reason these groups are using people instead of bots is because bots are easier to detect,” he said. “Amazon uses machine learning techniques to identify when companies are using bots.”

‘Comprehensive’ review manipulation

In a report released last year by Uberall, an online and offline customer experience platform, review manipulation on Amazon was termed “pervasive.”

Amazon claims that only 1% of reviews on the site are fake, but the report disputed that. It cited a 2018 analysis by Fakespot that found the number of fake reviews in certain product categories such as nutritional supplements (64%), beauty (63%), electronics (61%), and athletic sneakers (59%) is more.

“Even if we reduce these numbers by 50%, there will still be a gap between what Amazon and Fakespot report,” Uberall’s report said.

What can be done to curb fake reviews?

Uberall points out that Amazon and some others use the label “Verified Buyer” to indicate high trust in reviews. “It is an approach that needs to be used more widely,” it noted, “though it is not foolproof, as Amazon has discovered.”

“Despite specific anti-fraud mechanisms,” it continued, “fake reviews are a problem that needs to be addressed more systematically and vigorously.”

The paths identified in the report to address the problem include using more technical sophistication and aggressive enforcement to bring review fraud down to low single digits, adopting a review framework that is structurally difficult to defraud and Only genuine verified buyers are to be allowed. Write a review.

“These are not mutually exclusive approaches,” it explained. “They can and should be used in conjunction with each other.”

“With online reviews there is a huge amount at stake for businesses of all sizes,” the report said. “More and better reviews directly translate into online visibility, brand equity and revenue. This creates powerful incentives for businesses to pursue positive reviews and suppress or remove negative reviews.”