Can you solve the problem of fake online profiles and reviews?

How fake identities are a big challenge for today’s internet economy!

It is no surprise that Internet is full of fake profiles and identities. According to Facebook’s record in May 2015, there were over 170 million fake accounts. It has been regularly trying to remove these fake accounts from their platform. Yet, there are softwares that create thousands of fake accounts everyday. These accounts are sold to businesses as fans and likes. When Facebook purged millions of fake Instagram accounts last year, it was the celebrities that got hit the hardest. Reportedly, Justin Bieber lost 3.5 million Instagram fans.

There are several ways you could become the target of fake user profiles and you won’t even know. Fake profiles might not have hurt you in a direct way, but they might have duped you in the past. E.g. there is a huge market for buying and selling social media fans and likes.

To gain awareness in social media, small businesses often buy fans offered by hoards of freelancers looking for easy money. However, these fans and likes are always fake created using softwares that can produce random names and other details. Such a fan following results to zero revenue and no real eyeballs to the business.

In this article, we will take a few examples of how fake identities can affect you and everyone else!

Case I

A few weeks back, I met an old friend for dinner. She works in a young, growing startup in Paris and is usually excited about her job. She always admires the young and dynamic team, and their aspiration to grow the company. She always talks about their product launches, PR articles, marketing campaigns, team parties , etc. — all the things that keep startups a lively place to work at.

That day she looked tired. She didn’t speak much about her work, but something bothered her. She told me that her team had a marketing meeting to discuss new ‘Growth Hacks’ to acquire more users. They had a great brainstorming session and came up with many innovative ideas. Then why was she not cheerful?

She explained that she was unhappy about one user acquisition idea. The team suggested to create fake user profiles on social media to share & review their own product. She believed that their product was great and didn’t think that they would do such an unethical thing.

She tried to reason out with her team about the unworthiness of this idea but, she was the only one to think so! Another colleague said that he had used this hack in his previous startup and got many sign ups!

If a startup with great product and real customers can resort to such unethical tricks, what stops others to use it? A poor product can easily get ‘good’ reviews and more shares leading people to buy and waste their money.

Don’t think so? How many times you have purchased a product based on their reviews but the product was not upto your expectations? That’s how fake profiles and reviews affect us!

Case II

A year ago, a friend claimed had recently raised a small investment for his app. During one of our meetings, after drinking a few beers, he explained how he actually got the funding from a renowned angel investor. He had created an app to order meals from small restaurants in India. To raise investment for his startup, he met a few angel investors but nobody was interested. One investor agreed to invest but only after he sees at least 5,000 sign ups or $1000 monthly revenue on the app.

My friend was not the one to go out and get users. Rather, he created a massive army of fake users (with fake names and addresses), generated some fake orders every day to reach the goal. He launched his startup 2 months after that with a decent investment.

A part of the blame goes to the angel investors too. Many angel investors don’t dig deeper into understanding a business before they invest. Hence, they become susceptible (or partners?) to such ‘crimes’.

Point to ponder: If fake users is all it takes to get a startup funded, investors are going to lose a lot of money.

Case III

Foodpanda was mired with fake users and resaurants

In 2015, Rocket Internet found out that FoodPanda (India) was faking hundreds of orders to show growth. Later on, it on-boarded hundreds of restaurants to show that the growth was genuine. However, they missed having a proper verification process in place. This was the beginning to their end.

Many restaurants used FoodPanda’s lenient policies to their advantage. In 2015, FoodPanda launched BOGO (Buy One Get One) campaign to offer 50% discount on their orders. Many restaurants used another account to order food from themselves at 50% discount. Because they didn’t have to deliver the meal, it cost them only 50% of the bill but FoodPanda paid the restaurants full amount. They didn’t cook anything, they didn’t deliver anything and still received 50% extra from FoodPanda. When FoodPanda found out about it, they started delisting those restaurants but had lost a lot of money to such frauds!

In today’s marketplace and sharing (P2P) economy, people are always buying and selling products to each other. They are sharing cabs with each other, sleeping in a stranger’s house, lending money to someone they don’t know. In a way, it has become common for people to trust each other. However, there should be tighter security, proper identification, fraud detection and preventions measures.

Is there be a solution to put a stop to such fake profiles?

While companies like Uber and AirBnB claim to verify identity check of their users, it is not enough! They follow a minimum level of checks which can be tricked easily. There is no Live Scan background check which is a standard check for taxi operators in the US and the UK.

The problems we’re trying to address are:

  1. We can’t trust the sincerity of online reviews of various products on e-commerce stores.
  2. We can’t trust the background check by AirBnB, Uber or BlaBlaCar of their users.
  3. How do we ensure that the emails that we receive are not sent by a fake user posing as a friend? Sure, the email providers have tools to identify spams but it doesn’t check a user’s identity.

You are a victim of fake online profiles. Will you do something about it?

Current Solutions

The Y Combinator startup, Checkr, conducts checks like Identity Check, Criminal Records Check, Driver Check, Verification Check, Drug Check, Credit Check. Checkr uses social security numbers, address history, driving records, criminal record databases, and court records that it obtains on a daily basis from court runners.

Onfido, a UK-based company claims to use machine learning algorithm to identify fake profiles within seconds. It allows online businesses to verify their user base and to know that their customers are who they claim they are. Along with the regular checks like Credit Check, Driver Check, etc., Onfido conducts several other checks like Right to Work Check, Document Image Check, Employment History Check, and Negative Media Check.

BUT they are not the solution we’re looking for!

The existing solutions are targeted towards the online businesses to help them identify fake profiles or users. An internet user can’t use them to identify fake reviews or users.

We believe there is a need for a B2C solution that can be mass commercialised to protect average users from fake reviews and users. Any time you read a review or get an email, you should be able to know whether the profile is genuine or not!

VC industry will benefit a lot from this. It will allow them to know which startups are building useful products and have genuine users.

Possible solution

Can there be a profile management system which verifies all the users on internet? This could be an online identity certification to give online credibility to users.

A tool that uses advanced algorithms to validate a person’s identity by matching it across various websites. Including a LiveScan check will be useful to ensure stricter background check.

This may require the user to give out her information to the tool so it has to adhere to user data privacy.

When all the profiles are verified, one can trust the reviews and users even more.

Let us know if you believe there is a better solution to solve this problem.

Interested in solving this problem? Meet the makers — the developers, the thinkers, the designers, the marketers. And build great products with themakers.io. Join our Facebook group for more.

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