Mechanical Turk for Competitor Sabotage

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  • January 17, 2009
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

The Daily Background has today uncovered a Belkin employee apparently using Amazons Mechanical Turk system to pay people to write positive reviews on Amazon about Belkin routers.

The practice, known as astroturfing, is unethical around the world and if it involved a UK company would be illegal too. Unfortunately the only evidence in this case seems to be the fact that the Mechanical Turk adverts are placed under the name of a Belkin employee – who’s to say they weren’t placed by a competitor?

Mechanical Turk is a great system with a large number of people using it every day. My guess is you could do some serious damage with it.

To start with you could pay thousands of people to write spam blog comments on high profile WordPress blogs with your competitors name URL. This would upset the bloggers and get your competitor blacklisted by Akismet which is very hard to resolve.

Next you could pay people to continually submit your competitors website to all the major social news sites such as Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon. That would get them banned in less than 24 hours.

After that you could give people a list of websites to email requesting a paid link to your competitors website along with a few examples of other paid links your competitor has. The list would include the email addresses of every high profile blogger, SEO and search engine employee.

If your competitor is listed on any review websites you can pay people to flood the sites with fake positive reviews and then tip off the site owner. This would be a good way to get people kicked out of Google Local.

To be really nasty you could pay people to start spam forum threads promoting your competitors website meaning any legitimate threads are likely to be deleted in the future.

How about paying people to click on your competitors AdWords adverts all day so their budget runs out by lunchtime? Or keeping your competitors customer service department busy with hundreds of stupid questions and requests every day.

Finally you could pay thousands of people to file spam or paid link reports to Google about your competitors URLs and hope Google takes more notice of sites with large numbers of complaints.

Obviously I don’t advocate any of this but it just shows how one person with a few hundred dollars could cause a lot of damage to even a large online business.

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