According to wired.com an intriguing story surfaced this week about a mysterious hacker named Zhang Changhe, who is apparently working for the Chinese army coordinating a botnet of zombie computers infested with malware, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Zhang, according to Bloomberg and other accounts, seems to also have been running a service through which unscrupulous businesses could pay to increase the number of “likes” on their Facebook pages, as well as their number of followers on Twitter and votes on other social networks. The site was promoted on the forum BlackHatWorld.
The business and its owner underscore what Facebook is up against as the social network tries to preserve the purity, and thus value, of interactions between users and advertisers. Zhang was no ordinary social media consultant; in an academic paper on computer security, he listed himself as working at the PLA Information Engineering University. That’s PLA, as in People’s Liberation Army. The university is the Chinese army’s electronic intelligence center. That’s quite an enemy for Facebook to be up against.
There’s no question Facebook considers the gaming of likes an important issue. The company announced that it stepped up efforts against fake likes last summer, and in October went after a likes-related bug that could be gamed by spammers. Illicit likes undermine Facebook’s more sophisticated forms of advertising, in which businesses pay to enhance the visibility of likes from your friends, or to promote an app you might enjoy based on your past likes and those of your friends. Likes are also used to help determine how often to insert businesses’ unpaid posts into user news feeds.