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By 21 January 2014 | Categories: news

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From spammers who send out thousands of mails a day, to World of Warcraft players paying others to look for in-game gold, the odd practice of 'click farming' in its many forms has been around for a while.

A curious byproduct of the internet age, click farmers lend their services to everyone from gamers to corporate clients wishing to improve their online image.

These people are then paid to click away their days; creating and using fake accounts to increase Facebook likes, view YouTube videos, or re-tweet their clients’ every word.

It may sound like a rickety business plan, but according to the Associated Press the fledgling ‘industry’ rakes in millions each year. Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carla De Michelifake estimated last year that fake Twitter followers generated between $40 million and $360 million in 2013.

At the same time fake Facebook followers generated over $200 million. Click farms have thus turned into sizable companies in their own right, with thousands of employees clicking and linking away every hour of the day.

While the practice isn’t illegal in its own right, it does go against the user policies of several websites, and sites like YouTube and Facebook are forced to constantly verify and delete fraudulent accounts by the millions.

The morality and legality of the practice may be shaky, but the results speak for themselves. When customers choose which company to support, the company with 200 000 Twitter followers will appear much more legitimate and trustworthy than those without; even though both may offer identical services.

And click farm customers aren’t limited to dodgy websites either, the US State Department was caught in a scandal last year when it was revealed that out of 400 000 likes on their Facebook page the majority of users came from Cairo, Egypt. A subsequent investigation revealed that more than $630 000 had been spent to boost the agency’s numbers.

Is click farming legitimate business or quasi-legal spam? Let us know what you think down in the comments.

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