As it is Burns day we think the words of Scotland’s national poet serve pereftly as a warning to Silicon Valley nerds with world domination ambitions:
“The best lain schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.”
One such world domination wannabe for whom things have gang agley in the past year is Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg. But as badly as things have gone for Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal broke one year ago, in conformation of Murphy’s law (“No matter how bad things are they can always get worse,”) a new report from a team of researchers, led by a former colleague of Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard who helped Zuck create one of the original Facebook prototypes, suggests the reality of the company’s circumstances is even more dire than investors realize.
In a report, “Facebook: 50% Users Fake,” published on 24 January, 2019 by PlainSite, an independent research company founded by Aaron Greenspan, analysis reveals that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has regularly lied (nothing new there then,) to investors and media about the company’s traffic statistics, and that the company could be overestating the number of active monthly users by as much as 50%.
The team detailed their findings in a 70-page report from which the extract below is taken, on their website.
Facebook has been lying to the public about the scale of its problem with fake accounts, which likely exceed 50% of its network. Its official metrics — many of which it has stopped reporting quarterly — are self-contradictory and even farcical. The company has lost control of its own product. Ultimately, this is just the latest sign that Facebook — formerly one of the world’s most successful companies — is doomed to go the way of CompuServe and AOL.
PlainSite is a project launched by the Think Computer Corporation and Think Computer Foundation which aims to make “data accessible to the public free of charge” and “lets ordinary citizens impact the law- making process,” according to Bloomberg. Aaron Greenspan recently told his story about how he fit into the history of Facebook’s founding at Harvard on a podcast.
Facebook’s numbers have been suspect for years, I remember around eight years ago blogging on how many duplicate accounts were on the site, and how many user accounts were bots, spamming members timelines with likes, comments, links and advertising matter presented as news. The company’s fraudulent (because that is what they are,) business practices cheat its customers (advertisers) by giving a distorted picture of how effective advertising on facebook is likely to be, the report said.
Here are a few ways in which Facebook takes advantage of its fake traffic figures:
- Fake accounts boost the numbers of subscribers Facebook claims.
- Customers purchase advertising on Facebook believing the organisation can supposedly target advertisements at more than 2 billion real human beings. To the extent that as many as 50% of users aren’t real, companies are throwing their money down the drain.
- Fake accounts click on advertising at random, or “like” pages, to throw off antifraud algorithms. Fake accounts look real if they do not follow a clear pattern. This kind of activity defrauds advertisers who pay per click, but rewards Facebook with revenue.
- Fake accounts often defraud other users on Facebook, through scams, fake news, extortion, and other forms of deception. Often, they can involve governments
With Zuckerbergs plans to take over the world and establish a totalitarian nerdocracy in tatters what will happen next. It’d likely the US government security agencies will continue to prop up Facebook because the company can release a lot of dirt on the extent to which it cooperating in mass surveillance schemes, but it is likely users will desert in accelerating numbers and will certainly become more savvy about what information they reveal online. Unless of course Trump keeps his pledge to break up tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon.