Facebook Games Invite Spammers To Play

Facebook's catchy quizzes and hot games can often leave the barn door wide open to spammers. Dennis Yu should know; he used to be one of those spammers. Host Scott Simon speaks with Yu, who's now the CEO of the advertising agency BlitzLocal, and recently wrote a post on TechCrunch called "How to Spam Facebook Like a Pro: An Insider's Confession."

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: An Insider's Confession." Mr. Hu joins us now from Dallas. Thanks very much for being with us.

: Good morning, Scott.

: So what happens when you - and we'll use Farmville as an example - but how does that throw open the door?

: When the Facebook platform opened in June of '07, it allowed developers to build applications that sit on top of the Facebook platform to use user data. When a user clicks "accept," that they want to join, most of their profile information is now available. That can be used to create a very intense, addictive game, but it can also be used for advertising. And when you can use that data inside an ad to inject a user's name, their profile picture, the information of their friends, it creates highly relevant, highly targeted advertising, very smart ads. We can call them appvertising, for example. And may be they know your birthday and they can say, hey Scott, happy birthday, we'd like to show you - here's a free slice of cake. You can do very relevant social advertising when you know about who they are.

The trouble becomes when advertisers who are bad players in the market, now that this new information is available, will use it in deceptive ways. And Facebook has, on a number of occasions, cracked down on these bad players, to be able to say you cannot inject user information into the ads. So that's not being done anymore. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to try to stay one step ahead. It's a game of Whack-A-Mole, where you close down these holes and other people find a way to go around it. And there are loopholes here, and you're constantly trying to enforce it. And that's what happens whenever you open a new platform.

: Mr. Yu, why do you - why are you coming clean on this? Why are you feeling remorseful?

: When you do things that are deceptive, you can make a quick buck, but that never lasts. So independent of any sort of ethical concerns, for the long term, actually doing things that are trustworthy, where we're working closely with Facebook themselves, is a smart business plan.

: Anything people can do to kind of play defense?

: Obviously, caveat emptor. Don't put your cell phone number when they ask for it. Be very careful if you are agreeing to put in your email address, right, because it's not Facebook necessarily that's asking you for an email address. And make sure that that fan page that is asking you to friend it actually is that fan page. The same things that you see traditionally on the Internet, where they say, hey, you're winner number 9-9-9-9-9 or your computer may be infected - of course, anything that claims to be too good to be true, you should worry about that.

Or maybe you see a message from a friend because there are guys who have created spyware that will come in and take over your computer, send messages to all your friends. A couple of weeks ago, somebody sent me a message. It was another industry colleague in the local search space. And he said, I'm stuck in London. Can you wire me some money? My wallet got stolen from me. And I thought, well, I barely know this guy, but man, he's an important person, maybe I can do something to help. And later, when I contacted this fellow, he said, oh no, I didn't contact you. And I realized what had actually happened. So identity theft is happening in the most interesting sort of ways. So you've got to be careful.

: In the meantime, your blog, dennis-yu.com, you say that you're still playing Farmville. How's your wheat field doing?

: I think I actually have some crops that have rotted on me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Playing Farmville is actually a lot of fun. I talked to their head of business development a week ago, and he said that over half the revenue comes from people who actually outright buy the currency. It's amazing because you have to tip your hat - I don't think that the game developers are necessarily bad. They're just trying - they're going to do whatever to make money, and they're trusting the ad networks. They're not experts in the advertising business. They're experts at making games.

: Dennis Yu, CEO of BlitzLocal, speaking with us from Dallas. Thanks so much.

: Thank you, Scott.

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