MUMBAI: Indian 'click farms' are offering US and UK companies deals to boost their internet traffic and social media presence as part of a market that one expert estimates is growing at 20% a year.
An investigation by The Times of London found that interested parties could pay just $1 to generate 1,000 clicks or 1,000 or more Twitter followers or Facebook 'likes'.
One such entrepreneur explained that his "social media optimisation" operation could produce 1,000 Facebook 'likes' within a week. "It will take double the time for 2,000 and so on. Once the numbers increase, it will get faster. YouTube views are easier. I can give 3,000-4,000 per day."
The Times described a typical set-up where a few people in a small room clicked away on laptops to increase the popularity of paying clients.
Other operators have a more sophisticated approach. Australia's ABC News has reported on Indian IT professionals running automated click farms businesses on the side that can earn them the equivalent of a month's salary in just three days.
The market for false internet traffic may be worth $600m a year, according to David Sendroff, chief executive of US ad fraud detection specialist Forensiq. And he says it is growing at 20% annually.
"These click farms are generally coming out of places where labour is very cheap — India, Vietnam, Bangladesh. The real victims are the advertisers who end up buying space," Sendroff said.
Celebrities can make thousands of dollars for tweeting out a single endorsement and several have been accused of falsely inflating their social worth as a way to get more money from advertisers.
Search engines also consider social media influence, so increasing likes and followers has the potential to boost rankings in search engine results.
Data sourced from The Times, ABC; additional content by Warc staff