You're shopping online and spot the perfect product. Even better, it has all five-star reviews! You immediately add the item to your shopping basket and checkout. But when the product comes, it's deeply disappointing. So how did it get such glowing feedback?
It might be a difference of opinion. You could've received a faulty or inferior quality version to the one other people have got. Or it could be the product of click farming. And click farms can also result in social media accounts getting inflated likes and followers.
So what is a click farm? Is this an illegal scam? And how do you spot a dubious item?
How Does a Click Farm Work?
The definition of click farming is broad, as it can apply to so many online platforms. Essentially, a click farm is an enterprise that artificially inflates website engagements.
A dubious company typically gets low-paid workers to engage with a site. This could be:
- Liking social media pages.
- Leaving five-star reviews of products.
- Clicking on adverts.
- Following social media accounts.
- Generating traffic.
- Posting comments on webpages and social media accounts.
- Creating backlinks.
Think of the actual click farm as a workshop filled with people in front of banks of laptops or smartphones. Similar to some warehouses, these laborers are employed to carry out repetitive tasks. Sometimes, these workers will receive inflated wages for exceeding expectations too.
But click farms can also be part of the "gig economy" with remote workers across the world carrying out tasks from the comfort of their own homes, frequently as a part-time job.
In fact, a click farm could exist of just one person, in charge of numerous (sometimes hundreds of) devices.
And anyone can pay for clicks. That includes firms who have promised a certain amount of traffic through ads, so have to pick up the numbers during a promotion. Or it can be a competitor who uses a click farm to max out a rival's advertising budget.
The latter is click fraud: clicking on paid-for content including sponsored links and adverts with malicious intent.
Why Do Click Farms Exist?
There are lots of different reasons, but notably for the purposes of fraud.
Users trust products with lots of positive feedback, follow accounts with thousands of followers, and get behind something when it's a trend. Which would you prefer to buy, an item with a few reviews or a similar item with loads of positive ones? Exactly.
That's not all. Click farms are also part of the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Pay-To-Click (PTC) industry, which drives traffic to particular services.
You can sign up then get money for clicking ads, watching videos, filling out forms, and more. The amount of money received is usually small, but these can add up—especially when one person employs hundreds or thousands of people to operate numerous devices then pays those workers low wages in return.
Click farms exist because they work.
Are Click Farms Illegal?
You'll probably have heard about raids on click farms, whereby the authorities shut the operation down and arrest those in charge.
One infamous 2017 case saw a click farm in Thailand raided by the police, who seized nearly 350,000 SIM cards and almost 500 iPhones.
But they weren't charged for operating a click farm; they were arrested for other supposed offences like working without permits, overstaying visas, and using unregistered SIM cards. The authorities only raided the place because they thought it was a fraudulent call centre.
The question of whether click farming is illegal can be a bit of a gray area, because the answer depends on numerous things, including jurisdiction and platform. Either way, it's frowned upon and online giants like Google and Facebook always try to combat it. So click farming often violates a site or social network's user policies.
Working conditions can also land organizers in serious trouble.
Click fraud, however, is illegal.
In the USA, for instance, it was ascertained in 2020 that click fraud violates the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), so anyone found guilty could go to prison for up to 10 years.
How to Spot Click Farming
So how can you detect click fraud? How can you spot when something has been overwhelmed by click farming?
Firstly, if you're shopping and see a wealth of five- or four-star reviews on a product or service, you should probably already be suspicious: even the best items sometimes get lower reviews because everyone has a difference of opinion, some people think a three-star review is glowing, and faults do happen regardless.
Examine the reviews closely. Do they consist of very few words? Do they use the same or similar wording? Click farms often copy-paste comments to speed the whole process up. These fake reviews are typically overenthusiastic, but aren't specific with details.
Look for user photos too. These shouldn't look like professional PR shoots taken from official sites: they should feel homemade, personal, and not for promotional purposes. Reviews as a result of click farming rarely include images because the more time spent on promoting one item, the less money they'll make.
If you're concerned, look elsewhere, compare feedback, and look for verification.
If you're concerned about click fraud, you should keep an eye on sudden surges in traffic, potentially from unknown sources. You'll likely have an ideal market, so if you can analyze where traffic is coming from and it's not where you expect, you might be a victim of click fraud.
That doesn't always work, though, especially if those clicking are using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy server which mask their locations.
Nonetheless, an uptick in traffic overnight should raise suspicions, as should those clicks not translating into increased sales or enquiries.
Stop Click Fraud
Click farming is a huge issue and many online platforms are taking ongoing action to battle them. But the onus is on individual users too. Only by being vigilant and employing solid security practises can you avoid being scammed. Reporting fake reviews can help: most services like Amazon and Google give users ways to flag potentially fraudulent feedback.