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The New York Times told about the large-scale market of paid subscribers in social networks. Prosecutor General of New York opened a case

But so far against one particular company that sells subscribers using stolen personalities.

On January 27, the New York Times issued a detailed investigation into the activities of the American company Devumi, which is creating fake (but looking like real) accounts in social networks and selling subscribers to wind up the popularity of various stars of show business and commercial companies. According to the publication, Devumi has about 3.5 million of these automated profiles, which allows the company to earn millions of dollars a year.

Although often such profiles have photographs and descriptions of real people and this violates their rights, the social networks themselves and the state do not do enough to prevent such practices. In a March 2017 study by the University of California , it was estimated that there were about 48 million bots on Twitter – or about 9-15% of the total number of users, although the company claims that this number is much smaller. Facebook in November revealed to investors that there are about 60 million bots in the social network.

In Devumi they deny that they sell fake subscribers and steal the identity of real people in order to create a sense of the reality of such profiles. The company’s website says that the service gives new subscribers, increases the virality of content and, due to the posts of users, gives the brand or person of influence. But how exactly it happens, there is not specified – in the FAQ Devumi does not deal with the possible use of bots and only claims that the company manages to keep prices for services low.

According to the New York Times, Devumi has about 200,000 customers – among them athletes, business coaches, television stars and models. Usually subscribers buy for themselves, sometimes – for friends or clients. In the list of Devumi clients, the newspaper named IT magnate Michael Dell (founder of Dell), actor John Leguizamo (John Wick 2), editor of the Chinese news agency Xinhua, adviser to the president of Ecuador (he bought subscribers for the last election campaign) and even one a member of the board of directors.

Some of the buyers in a conversation with the New York Times admitted that they suspected Devumi of fraud (because the company does not say they are bots) and were disappointed by the purchase of subscribers. One of the users pumped through Devumi was the model Kathy Island, who became the brand ambassador for American Family Insurance. It turned out that this employee of the company bought bots for her without a demand, having grown the number of subscribers from 160 thousand to a million in less than a year – perhaps he just wanted to put more beautiful figures in reports on the company’s progress through her Twitter.

As an experiment, the editors of The New York Times bought 25,000 subscribers on Twitter for a test account for $ 225. The first 10 thousand subscribers received were similar to real people, although on closer examination it was clear that they were bots: the avatars were clipped to avoid automatic detection; in the symbols, the characters were replaced with similar ones (for example, i on l), subscriber to subscription ratio was suspiciously low (in ordinary people it is not so badly skewed), but the most different is the published content – the permanent retweets of records in different languages. But the following 15 thousand profiles that subscribed to the test account, did not even look like real Twitter users.

Less than a day after the release of the investigation, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reacted to him. He has recently filed one case against bots – he suspected the Federal Communications Commission of cheating on positive feedback about the cancellation of network neutrality – and now he promises to bring a new case against Devumi.

“The extortion of another person and fraud are prohibited by the laws of New York. We are opening an investigation against Devumi and their alleged sale of bots using stolen personalities. The Internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy – but increasingly turns into an opaque area where you can pay to win “

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