How Click Farms Affect Your Internet

Authorities in Thailand have busted a massive click farm, detaining a number of Chinese tech users who’d been operating it. In all, there were more than 500 cell phones and 350,000 different SIM cards in the location. Officials believe that the click farm was set up there because Thailand has some of the lowest cellular data usage fees.

You might be wondering what a click farm is, and why this is major news. Imagine walking into a seedy-looking basement office and finding that every inch of wall space was covered with cellular phones. Giant wire racks containing hundreds or even thousands of cell phones, each with a wire running out of it. The wires snake across the floor and connect to computer monitors, and the entire room is awash with the glow of these tiny screens.

A click farm is where users manipulate web traffic to increase their revenue from advertising or game downloads, provide extra likes or shares to social media content, and more. You can purchase “followers” on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and a click farm is where the fake accounts originate—each one connected to a different cell phone—in order to increase your visibility and your popularity online.

Compared to drug smuggling or violent crime, this might not seem like a big deal, but the reality of this crime is rather serious. Click farms are responsible for swaying public opinion, sharing fake news articles, and defrauding advertisers out of their money by convincing them that their ads are being viewed by real people.

Imagine coming across a link to an article that is especially defamatory. It might not sound completely genuine, but just look at all those likes, shares, and comments on the article! There must be something to it if so many people are talking about it, right?

Only it’s not “people” talking about it, it’s cell phones that have been set up to generate money for the click farmer. The owner simply receives instructions on which content to promote and doesn’t care what that content actually is. Furthermore, the increase in traffic on that article means computer algorithms naturally spread the article’s reach even farther and place it higher up in the internet search results.

The click farm that was discovered in Thailand is just one of a countless number of similar operations, so what are you supposed to do about it? Actually, there’s not much an individual web user can do except to understand that click farms are real and they are changing what kind of content comes across your apps and social media feeds. This should serve as a warning to simply use discernment and extreme caution when you find something online, and be mindful of what you share.

Also, remember that every single device in the click farm has its own social media “persona,” so these click farms can also be used to commit fraud and scams against internet users. Be very careful about who you meet online, what friend requests you accept, and what information you choose to share about yourself.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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