Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
True Genius: How to go from “the future of journalism” to a fire sale in a few short years
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 2, 2013, 1:27 p.m.
LINK: online.wsj.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   October 2, 2013

“Unique visitors” aren’t always that unique. Sometimes, they’re not even visitors — at least of the human variety. A story in The Wall Street Journal looks at what happens marketers end up buying ad space on websites that turn out to be visited only by robots.

While some scammers create stand-alone operations, others devise sprawling empires. In one case, the White Ops technology uncovered a zombie-populated lifestyle network, with hundreds of connected sites, including bodybuildingfaq.com, financestalk.com, and abctraveling.com. No one at the sites could be reached for comment.

In some scenarios, legitimate websites inadvertently set themselves up for botnet invasions when they hire companies to help boost their traffic. That can involve building audiences through methods such as paid keyword-search advertising with search engines.

White Ops discovered that more than 30% of the visitors to the education portal Education.com were robots. In the past month the site received about four million unique views, according to Quantcast.

A spokesman for Education.com said it was aware of the bot-traffic and that it had likely come from an initiative in the summer to boost its audience numbers. Education.com had bought traffic from a variety of legitimate sources, including search engines, to lure in new subscribers, as well as users “who would perform well for advertisers.”

“We shut down the program,” the spokesman said.

Show tags Show comments / Leave a comment
 
Join the 50,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
True Genius: How to go from “the future of journalism” to a fire sale in a few short years
Genius (née Rap Genius) wanted to “annotate the world” and give your content a giant comment section you can’t control. Now it can’t pay back its investors.
This study shows how people reason their way through echo chambers — and what might guide them out
“You really don’t know whether this person making a good-sounding argument is really smart, is really educated, or whether they’re just reading off something that they read on Twitter.”
Misinformation is a global problem. One of the solutions might work across continents too.
Plus: What Africa’s top fact-checkers are doing to combat false beliefs about Covid-19.