FriendFarming: Harvesting Social Networking Friends for Sale

MySpace t-shirts

Previously…
GoldFarming: The act of playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) solely for the purpose of harvesting and selling loot, accumulating gold and then selling that virtual gold for real money in online marketplaces such as eBay or IGE.com. (See Wikipedia entry)

And Now…
Friendfarming: The act of playing a Social Networking Site (SNS) solely for the purpose of harvesting and selling relationships, accumulating friends and then selling that user account for real money in online marketplaces such as eBay or Craigslist. (See relevant eBay auctions)

On eBay, MySpace accounts with 8500+ friends are being sold for around US$75, 7000+ friends for US$65, 4000+ for US$35, and the list goes on. Given this trend, I wonder if it makes sense to sell Facebook accounts as well.

In a recent study, IT security firm Sophos created a fake Facebook user account under the name ‘Freddi Staur‘, and randomly requested 200 members to be friends with ‘Freddi.’ Out of those 200, 87 accepted the friend request and 82 of those gave ‘Freddi’ access to “personal information” such as e-mail addresses, dates of birth, addresses and phone numbers, and school or work data (Thanks Derek!).

Both cases break the magic circle. Both also involve some form of labor, although it is often partly automated through the use of bot programs.

While this might not be ethical, it remains to be seen if the harvesting of user profiles might still be cheaper than Facebook’s new targeted advertising system. After all, being “cheaper” is what drives email spam till today.

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