Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Grim Truth about Crowd Sourcing and Astroturf!

by Robert Leavitt

Well you may ask yourself how Crowd Sourcing and Astro Turf go together in a sentance!  First lets define each:

Crowd Sourcing is a type of employment where people hire employees (via the internet) to perfom small tasks that can't be accomplished by a computer in most cases.  They could be searching for a website, clicking certain links, or signing up for a service.

Astroturf is artifical grass that was originaly used in the "Astrodome" in Houston, TX as a place to play baseball that required no ground maintenance.  Another advantage was the ability to play in any weather condition.

Now, these two terms refer to people using Crowd Sourcing as a way to "Astroturf" certain websites by giving them "fake roots" and manipulating search engine results.

As some of you know I was a microworkers employee for a long period of time, and I have completed many many tasks.  I started to notice some patterns emerging.  For example there were several tasks that always asked you to go the site.  They will post a picture on a picture host server and it will have the name of the site painted into it, so it's not identifiable to a spider crawling the web.  Then once on that page, you will search inside that page for a list of advertisements.  Then you are asked to click the advertisement.

I have seen many variations of the above task, but they all share a couple of things in common.

  • You are never asked to search for the site in google.
  • You will enter the site from another site, usually facebook or something like that to make it appear like legitimate traffic.
  • You usually conduct a search while in the page, though not always.
  • You are asked to click an advertisement.
At first this seemed harmless to me, and some of the people were paying a decent amount to do this fast task ($0.15 - $0.25 a task for a matter of seconds).  In fact I used to look for these tasks exclusively as they are highly profitable for the worker.

Yesterday I applied for an adSense account to help monetize my fertilizer blog.  I figured that i could use the ad revenue to help pay for hosting costs, etc... After I filled in the details and I got to the end, I started to read the Terms of Service (TOS) for adSense.  I was absolutely shocked to find that paying someone to click your links is an outright violation of the TOS.

So why do they continue to allow it?  Why wouldn't Google try to sue microworers and other sites like it?  I don't have the answer to this question, and I know that microworkers is based in Europe somewhere.  It's really kind of sad how much manipulation there is out there in World Wide Web.

It's a dog eat dog world out there.  What are your thoughts?

You can learn more about Robert Leavitt on his Google Plus page.