Iceland police arrest suspected Bitcoin server thieves

A geothermal energy plant in Iceland Iceland police arrest suspected Bitcoin server thieves Iceland police arrest suspected Bitcoin server thieves 13217ebd6fImage copyrightAFP
Image caption Nearly 100% of energy in Iceland comes from renewable sources

Police in Iceland have arrested 11 people suspected of stealing more than 600 computers that were being used to mine crypto-currencies, reports AP.

The computers were stolen during four raids on data centres around Iceland.

The country is a popular location for data centres because almost 100% of the power generated there comes from renewable sources.

Two of the suspects are in custody, and nine have been released on bail. The stolen servers have not been recovered.

The AP newswire said police were now contacting internet service provider (ISPs), electricians and storage units, asking them to report sudden spikes in power usage or other signs the stolen servers had been reconnected. The value of the stolen computers has been put at $2m (£1.45m).

In February, Iceland’s HS Orka power generation company said it was seeing an “exponential” rise in the amount of energy being used in these data centres to mine and verify crypto-currency transactions.

For the first time, it said, the energy required for coin mining had exceeded that used by Iceland’s 340,000 inhabitants to power their homes.

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Would you hack your own body?

Mock-up of a bio-hacker Would you hack your own body? Would you hack your own body? 23df9332dbImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption An estimated 10,000 people now have chips under their skin – but this one is just a mock-up!

At a trendy east London bar, a group of body hackers are putting forward their reasons for human augmentation to a packed audience of mainly under-35s, many of whom are sporting piercings and tattoos.

Putting a chip under your skin is not so very different from getting a piercing or tattoo, argued one of the panellists – except there was often less blood.

For some, transhumanism – the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its physical and mental limitations with the help of technology – is a crucial part of the advancement of society.

Image copyrightGraham Land, Virtual Futures
Image caption Lepht Anonym has plenty of implants

Bio-hacker Lepht Anonym has nine implants and strongly believes what she does will benefit humankind as well as her own curiosity.

But she admits it can be painful.

“The magnets in my fingers really, really hurt. They hurt so much that your vision goes white for a bit. Really, really painful.”

The magnets allow her to sense electromagnetic radiation so she can tell if a device is on or off, whether a microwave is running and identify where power lines are. All of which, she admits, is “not hugely useful”.

She also has a chip under her skin that lets her interact with her phone and unlock doors.

She hopes that the “primitive results” she has achieved can be used by other, more skilled people, to build something better.

“The bio-hacking community is a co-operative. It is about improving the quality of life for people but in a practical way.”

Hygiene issues

Not everyone is a fan of the trend. Andreas Sjostrom, who leads CapGemini’s global mobility practice, had an implant in 2015 which allowed him to download his customer number from airline tickets and get through security gates with a swipe of his hand.

It got him noticed by security staff at the airport and worked but he has since become more cynical about the technology.

“In order for this to be widely used or adopted it has to improve on the current situation,” he said.

“The hardware that reads such chips is designed for a flat surface such as you’d find in a card,” he explained, adding that chips in hands are often not recognised by the readers.

“And, if everyone is pressing their hands on the reader, that is less hygienic.”

It is estimated that more than 10,000 people around the world have chip implants in their bodies, making it far from mainstream but clearly a growing trend.

The current range of implants includes magnets that are installed into fingertips, radio frequency identification chips (RFiD) implanted in hands, and even LED lights that can shine beneath the skin.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The chips are tiny

Chips used for opening doors carry a unique serial number the can be read by a device attached to whatever you want to open and one chip can carry multiple numbers meaning you do not need a separate chip for everything you want to access.

Amal Graafstra provides such implants via his firm Dangerous Things and thinks there are three good reasons to have an implant.

“We all carry with us keys, wallet and phone. These are major burdens, they are so important for modern life but everyone hates carrying them.

“With a simple implant that uses less energy and carries less risk than an ear-piercing, you can replace them.”

He is able to access not only his house but his car via the implant under his skin, although he admits that getting the device to work with his car required “a bit of hacking”.

But he envisions a future where chips can do far more – and that, he predicts, will attract more people to the community of bio-hacking.

“If someone could use an implant to get on the train, buy coffee, secure their computer, secure their data, get into their house, drive a car – all of these possible applications will compel a lot more adoption.”

Image copyrightMatt Eagles
Image caption Matt Eagles’ implant has left a scar on his chest and two small bumps on his head

For Matt Eagles, the implant he has in his brain is not a luxury so much as a necessity to cope with the Parkinson’s disease he has had since he was a child.

He has two 15cm electrodes that run deep into his brain and create two bumps on his head which he affectionately refers to as “baby giraffe horns”.

The implants are attached to a pulse generator in his chest, which disrupts the electrical signals to his brain and allows him to walk.

“They have given me back my dignity. When you struggle to turn over in bed at night or can’t get out of bed to go to the bathroom, to be suddenly able to do so is a huge plus.”

It has also given him back confidence to pursue his love of photography – he was an accredited football photographer at the 2012 Olympics – and, perhaps most importantly, he has got married.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Some bio-hackers have gone one stage further – triggering a change in their own DNA

Many regard medicine as being the real mainstream application for bio-hacking, from cochlear implants which improve hearing loss to smart pills that can be ingested and access, analyse and manipulate bodily functions.

Some bio-hackers are ready to go one step further. In October 2017, Josiah Zayner, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the University of Chicago, injected his arm with DNA from a gene-editing tool called Crispr.

It is a stunt that he has since said he regrets but his attempt to edit his own genes – in this case to trigger a genetic change in his cells to increase muscle mass – made headlines at the time, largely around the ethics of such experimentation.

“There is a continuum between therapy and enhancement and it is difficult to draw the line between where medicine ends and enhancement begins,” said Prof John Harris, an ethicist from the University of Manchester.

“As for gene editing the tools are available and relatively cheap and easy to use, but people would be extremely ill-advised to try it.”

There has also been objections on religious grounds from some, with Mr Sjostrom receiving negative feedback from a group in the Christian community.

“They see implantable technology and assume the end of times are here and that it is the mark of the beast. It is important to know how to deal with this technology from a theological point of view.”

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Angry Birds maker Rovio closes London studio

Angry Birds character Angry Birds maker Rovio closes London studio Angry Birds maker Rovio closes London studio 0dc7273f19Image copyrightReuters
Image caption The Angry Birds movie was a commercial success

The company behind the hit mobile game Angry Birds has closed its London studio, after warning its profits were likely to fall.

Rovio’s head of games, Wilhelm Taht, also resigned on Friday, leaving chief executive Kati Levoranta in charge.

The Finnish games company has warned that its brand licensing revenues could decline 40% this year.

It has blamed tough competition and higher marketing costs for the poor outlook.

Rovio’s London studio was opened in 2017 and the company went public in September with a valuation of £786m.

But on 22 February, the Finnish games maker issued a profit warning that caused its shares to drop by 50%.

Announcing the closure of its London studio, Rovio said it wanted to concentrate on its studios in Finland and Sweden.

The company had employed seven games developers in London.

Skip Twitter post by @Sorrell

It’s with a heavy heart that I tell you the @rovio London Studio is going to close. Sad times for us, but I look back with genuine pride at my time with these talented and kind people. Been quite a ride. pic.twitter.com/EYxO3ZZmaA

— Mark Sorrell (@Sorrell) March 2, 2018

End of Twitter post by @Sorrell

Rovio saw rapid growth after it launched Angry Birds in 2009, but it made a significant loss in 2015 and cut a third of its staff.

In 2016, its Angry Birds movie earned $350 million (£254m) in cinemas and helped revive sales of the game.

A sequel is expected in 2019.

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Trump mocked for linking games to violence

Games console and Donald Trump Trump mocked for linking games to violence Trump mocked for linking games to violence d4926e5ce1Image copyrightGetty Images

“Video game violence and glorification must be stopped – it is creating monsters!”

Six years after Donald Trump tweeted his views on video game violence, it seems he is looking to take action.

In a White House briefing following the Florida school shooting, when press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the president’s policy on gun control she said Donald Trump will “be meeting with members of the video game industry to see what they can do on that front”.

Ms Sanders response has been widely discussed on social media, with some criticising the president for pointing the finger at fictional guns, rather than actual firearms.

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Some people wondered if they had inadvertently stumbled into the past, as the relationship between video games and violent behaviour has long been debated in the media.

Skip Twitter post by @amandawtwong

Columbine happened when I was a freshman in high school and we had to go through the whole rigamole of “Is it the Matrix? Is it goths? Is it videogames?”. I am glad to know that in ALMOST TWENTY YEARS, the conversation barely moved forward one jot. https://t.co/00AUAr1scy

— Amanda Wong (@amandawtwong) March 1, 2018

End of Twitter post by @amandawtwong

One person asked why the White House was discussing video games, saying that Trump “has plenty of ideas for ending mass shootings, except gun control”.

While artist and director Rob Sheridan, known for his work with music group Nine Inch Nails, wondered if game industry executives might suggest similar measures.

Skip Twitter post by @rob_sheridan

I hope the video game executives are like “yeah, thanks for talking to us, since you asked our opinion you should ban AR-15s.”

— Rob Sheridan @ ECCC (@rob_sheridan) March 1, 2018

End of Twitter post by @rob_sheridan

This was followed by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane pointing out that “other countries without America’s gun problem also have video games”.

And one person tried to find the funny side of things, re-writing Australia’s 1996 gun ban for comic effect.

Skip Twitter post by @thomas_violence

people are making fun of Trump for this but Australia got rid of their video games after a mass shooting in 1996 and haven’t had one since

— thomas violence (@thomas_violence) March 1, 2018

End of Twitter post by @thomas_violence

But some people praised Trump for taking action, with one person saying the president is “doing more and engaging more than Obama did”, and another applauding Trump for addressing the “surrounding issues” of guns.

Meanwhile, Twitter users have begun to question exactly who it is that Donald Trump intends on meeting.

Video game journalist Jason Schreier tweeted that the Entertainment Software Association, whose members include many of the largest game publishers in the United States, says neither the ESA nor its members have been invited to a meeting.

And if a meeting does happen, one person wondered how the meeting could go ahead without causing contention.

Skip Twitter post by @jackmjenkins

Who is he going to meet with? Activision? EA? ID? Bungie? Valve? Nintendo?

Also, since the video game industry has spent literally DECADES rejecting the idea that they’re to blame for violence, this sounds like a pretty contentious meeting in the making. https://t.co/YD5J1ejsnr

— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) March 1, 2018

End of Twitter post by @jackmjenkins

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Twitter boss seeks help with online abuse

Twitter logo Twitter boss seeks help with online abuse Twitter boss seeks help with online abuse 8f90a2f580Image copyrightReuters

Twitter has asked for help in devising a “health check” to measure its contribution to public conversation.

It said it hoped to work with “outside experts” and is inviting proposals.

Its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, said the platform’s “instant, public, global messaging” had “real-world negative consequences” that Twitter had neither fully predicted nor understood.

Twitter has repeatedly been criticised for the amount of abuse and propaganda posted by some of its users.

In support of its new stance, Mr Dorsey tweeted a link to an organisation called Cortico.

It identifies “shared attention”, “shared reality” (which it describes as “using the same facts”), variety of opinion and reception to different views as indicators of a healthy public conversation.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Jack Dorsey has appealed for help

Lisa-Maria Neudert, from the Oxford Internet Institute, said it was a positive step to see Twitter prepared to share its data with researchers and fund their work, but questioned how the measurements might be made.

“I’m not sure if you can measure health of a discourse,” she told the BBC.

“If the shared topic of discourse is a terrible propaganda message that’s not very healthy.”

‘Not proud’

However, Ms Neudert said it was a good move for Twitter.

“This is Twitter’s way of saying ‘we realise our platform has problems and we have to do things about it’,” she said.

“It’s not just propaganda and meddling but there is also a hostile community on Twitter.”

Mr Dorsey admitted that the firm had found it difficult to manage the way its platform was used.

“We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough,” Mr Dorsey wrote on Twitter.

In a series of tweets he said that the firm had focused on removing offensive content rather than trying to encourage “more healthy debate”.

Explaining Twitter’s decision to seek a health check, he said: “If you want to be able to improve something, you have to be able to measure it”.

Twitter has seen a variety of high profile accounts closed, often by celebrities, because of persistent trolling.

The Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones left in 2016 after a barrage of abuse following the release of the remake of the movie, which attracted criticism because of its all-female cast.

She has since returned.

The singer Ed Sheeran has been another example of someone famous abandoning Twitter.

On Thursday, British chef and activist Jack Monroe left Twitter “for the good of my mental health”.

“I have been in enough abusive relationships to recognise gas-lighting, coercion and bullying, and my personal relationships are suffering as a result of what I experience on here every day,” Monroe wrote.

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Carney warns on crypto-currency ‘mania’

Carney warns on crypto-currency 'mania' Carney warns on crypto-currency 'mania' 4c7085d408
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCarney calls for crypto-currency regulation

Crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin should be regulated to crack down on illegal activities and protect the financial system, Mark Carney warned.

The Bank of England governor said their inherent risks meant investments in digital currencies could lose money.

“The time has come to hold the crypto-asset ecosystem to the same standards as the rest of the financial system,” Mr Carney said in a speech on Friday.

Crypto-currencies do not yet pose risks to financial stability, he said.

But he said that could change if more people began investing in them.

Although some countries have banned them, Mr Carney said regulation would be a better approach.

“A better path would be to regulate elements of the crypto-asset ecosystem to combat illicit activities, promote market integrity, and protect the safety and soundness of the financial system,” he said.

Image copyrightGetty Images

Analysis: Simon Jack, BBC business editor

If the world of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin are the Wild West, a new sheriff just swaggered into town.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney laid down the law today with a withering assessment of Bitcoin’s qualifications to be described as money and a warning that, if allowed to grow unchecked, it could threaten financial stability.

Sheriff Carney says it fails as money because it is wildly volatile, poorly understood, inefficient and not widely accepted.

Digital currencies threaten stability because people may invest substantial amounts – mistakenly believing they are regulated – causing further loss of faith in the financial system if they collapse.

The evangelists of crypto-currencies will dismiss Mr Carney’s assessment as the predictable response of a financial establishment that Bitcoin threatens.

If Governor Carney has his way, they will be saying: I fought the law and the law won.

‘Down with the kids’

China has cracked down hard on crypto-currencies, banning initial coin offerings and shutting down Bitcoin exchanges.

Indonesia and Bangladesh have banned Bitcoin as a payment tool, and India’s central bank has issued a number of warnings about Bitcoin risks.

However, Mr Carney said that the technology on which crypto-currencies are based “could potentially catalyse innovations to serve the public better”.

Blockchain technology could be used to make payments more flexible, efficient and reliable.

“They point the way to where the system has to go” by allowing peer-to-peer transactions, he said.

He said the Bank “has an open mind” about the eventual development of a central bank digital currency, but he said it “shouldn’t be a solution in search of a problem or an effort of central bankers to be down with the kids”.

Digital currencies can allow anonymous transactions and carry risks including money laundering, terrorism financing and tax evasion.

But in terms of regulation, “if there’s a will there’s a way”, Mr Carney said. “It’s relatively straightforward.”

Crypto-currency trade body Crypto UK said it supported new regulation, but said that policymakers should not try to adapt existing financial rules to digital currencies.

“This shouldn’t be viewed as a crackdown, but an opportunity to establish parameters that protect consumers while encouraging the biggest and best crypto-currency businesses to make the UK their home,” a spokesperson said.

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Amazon’s Social Media Platform: What You Need to Know

Amazon’s Social Media Platform: What You Need to Know

 

Have you heard the news?

 

Amazon has launched its own social media platform called Spark.

 

It combines the idea of Instagram and Pinterest.

 

Its purpose is to provide its users with an engaging and personable experience and to ultimately help them make a purchase.

 

In this short piece, I’ll share what motivated Amazon to launch Spark and the reasons behind it.

 

Amazon’s Motivation for Spark

Spark mimics elements of both Instagram and Pinterest.

 

The emphasis is on creating engaging and stimulating images for Amazon’s social media platform. This explains why Pinterest and Instagram inspired the design and idea.

 

It’s not completely foreign either. The platform has a “feed” where users can scroll through images they find appealing. It gives a bit of familiarity with experimenting new twists.

 

Users can “like” images they see with a smiley face.

 

Amazon’s Reason for Spark

The obvious reason for Spark is to increase profits for Amazon.

Amazon wants to create more user engagement with its products without needing to go to outside sources.

 

Amazon believes that if users are already viewing products on its social media platform, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase.

 

How Spark Works

Users will sign in using their existing Amazon account for Spark to make it simple.

 

Once users are in the app, they’ll click on “Programs and Features” and then on “Spark”.

 

For a user’s first time on Spark, they will go through a “registration” page that asked them to list five “interests” they would like to follow.

 

On their Spark “feed” users will see products based on “interests” they want to follow.

If users see an item they want to buy they can make an in-app purchase with only using one app.

 

Similar to other apps, users will be able to set notification settings.

 

A Versatile Experience

Amazon designed the site for both desktop and mobile users.

 

If you want Amazon Spark on the go, you’ll need either a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile devices.

 

Takeaway

Amazon is becoming more in-tune with their users’ web activity and preferred way of shopping.

 

Amazon Spark makes it easy for users to utilize their accounts in a different and more engaging way.

 

Try out Spark for yourself and tell us what you think!

Amazon The eCommerce Leader (Infographic)

 

Infographic URL: https://www.16best.net/blog/amazon-ecommerce-leader-infographic/

 

 

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Vacuum cleaner turned into robot saw

Researchers have repurposed existing robotic technology so it is able to create custom wooden furniture, a move they say will greatly improve safety.

READ: Robot carpenter makes custom furniture

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.

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Fake trends

Fake trends Fake trends e20e2bb123
Media playback is unsupported on your device

A BBC investigation has found that companies in Saudi Arabia are offering to artificially boost the popularity of hashtags to make them trend on Twitter – in contravention of the social media network’s rules. The price to get automated “bot” accounts to make a hashtag trend for a few hours is around £150 ($200).

It was an odd topic for people to suddenly be talking about.

In early December a phrase which roughly translates as “Grilled Lamb Delivery” was a top trending phrase on Twitter in Saudi Arabia. Nearly 17,000 tweets mentioned the phrase – most of them promoting just one restaurant, and listing its phone number.

As it turned out, thousands of “people” weren’t in fact talking about one establishment’s meat products, as succulent, juicy or overcooked as they might have been. In fact, the “Grilled Lamb Delivery” hashtag was a clandestine advertising campaign being pushed – successfully – by a network of automated bot accounts.

The lamb trend is one of many artificially manufactured hashtags which regularly hit Twitter’s list of “Trending Topics” in Saudi Arabia. They’re promoted by shadowy companies that make money by gaming the social network’s algorithm in an attempt to make conversations seem organic and natural – when they are anything but.


You might also be interested in


“Trending Topics”

At its most basic, Twitter’s “Trending Topics” list is a real-time gauge of what people are talking about on the network. If you’re looking at Twitter on a desktop, the list usually runs in a prominent position along the side of the page (circled below in red):

Image copyrightTwitter

On the Twitter mobile phone app, the list is one of the first things you see if you touch the magnifying glass icon.

Image copyrightTwitter

There’s a worldwide list of Trending Topics, but also separate local lists detailing what’s going big in individual countries and cities. Users can easily change their settings and look at lists from around the world.

Image copyrightTwitter

What goes on the Trending Topics lists is governed by an algorithm that measures not only sheer popularity (i.e. the total number of tweets), but velocity – in other words, how fast certain topics are surging on the network. It’s why, for instance, names associated with breaking news and popular news site headlines often crack the list very quickly.

Companies can pay Twitter to appear on the list. But these “Promoted Trends” are clearly marked as advertising.

That’s not the case for the artificially trending hashtags BBC Trending found.

Congratulations Fahima!

Our investigation discovered that companies in Saudi Arabia are promising to make hashtags hit the Trending Topics list for relatively small sums – and in many cases they are succeeding.

To boost the popularity of otherwise mundane phrases and hashtags, these companies are using networks of bots – automated accounts which are programmed to shoot out a stream of messages at a particular time.

Trending approached several companies which claimed to be able to make hashtags trend. Eventually we managed to contact the company behind the “Grilled Lamb” hashtag campaign.

After a series of negotiations via WhatsApp, we were charged $200 (just under £150) to get the Arabic equivalent of “Congratulations Fahima” onto Saudi Arabia’s Trending Topics list.

The person behind the company promised that he could get the hashtag trending throughout the Gulf country. One attempt was aborted when the company representative said that high Twitter traffic due to a celebrity wedding meant he could not make the hashtag trend on our first chosen date.

He was more successful several days later. The hashtag hit the list of top trends in the Saudi city of Jeddah, reaching as high as the sixth slot on the list.

Image copyrightTwitter
Image caption The sixth phrase on this list – “Congratulations Fahima” – appeared for a few hours as a top Twitter trend in Jeddah

The botnet used by the company pumped out more than 600 messages including the “Congratulations Fahima” hashtag. But once it hit the list of Twitter Trends, real people began to use it. Some asked who Fahima was or claimed to be her friend.

“I know Fahima!” tweeted one. “She just had quadruplets!”

Bot limitations

There were definite limitations to the power of the company’s botnet. The hashtag did not make it onto the general list of trends in Saudi Arabia – although other hashtags, like the “Grilled Lamb” one, did trend nationwide.

And claims by the company and other similar firms that they could get hashtags trending in the UK and other Western countries appear to be highly exaggerated.

But the ability to force something onto the trending list is impressive in a country where Twitter is hugely popular. According to a survey in 2014, Saudi Arabia had 2.4 million Twitter users – more than 40% of all active users of the social network in the Arab region.

Trending tried to call the number associated with the WhatsApp account which handled the transaction, but the man who answered denied knowing anything about the company’s business.

Political potential

Hashtags which appear to be advertising in disguise regularly trend in Saudi Arabia. And although the most obvious ones are commercial in nature, there is potential for political manipulation as well, according to Marc Owen Jones, a lecturer of the history of the gulf and the Arabian Peninsula at Exeter University.

“I realised in the last Saudi-Qatar crisis that thousands of accounts were producing information that are either fake or propaganda,” he says.

“What’s interesting is having lots of these accounts is that they can manipulate what’s seen by many audiences in the world, so the more accounts you have picking on a certain topic the more the topic gets pushed up to trend.”

“Having those bots makes people believe that this is what people in the Gulf are talking about,” he said.


BBC Trending

BBC Trending takes an in-depth look at social media and the trends and technologies that are shaping our world.

We produce a podcast and radio programme on the BBC World Service, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and all of our stories can be found at bbc.com/trending


Twitter said it was aware of the issue and that it is committed to weeding out botnets and people trying to manipulate its system.

“Attempting to game trending topics is a practice as old as Trends on Twitter themselves, and over the years we’ve invested heavily in thwarting spam and other automated attempts to manipulate Trends,” the company told the BBC in a statement.

“We take active measures to protect against trend gaming, such as excluding automated Tweets and users from our calculations of a Trend.

“Importantly, as spammers change their tactics we actively modify our technological tools to address such situations.”

Twitter said that since June 2017, it has detected an average of 130,000 accounts per day which are trying to manipulate the trends list. The company said it is taking steps to stop manipulation but declined to give details about its actions, stating that “saying more about those steps would only help bad actors.”

Reporting by Fahima Abdulrahman and Anisa Subedar

Do you have a story for us? Email BBC Trending.

More from Trending: Mum’s bullying campaign leads to ‘honesty’ app ban

Image copyrightKatrina Collins

A wildly popular anonymous messaging app has been removed from the Apple and Google stores after accusations that it has been facilitating bullying. But the company’s chief executive denies the claims and says the app isn’t meant to be used by younger teens.READ NOW

You can follow BBC Trending on Twitter @BBCtrending, and find us on Facebook. All our stories are at bbc.com/trending.

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£150 to fake a Twitter trend

£150 to fake a Twitter trend £150 to fake a Twitter trend e20e2bb123
Media playback is unsupported on your device

A BBC investigation has found that companies in Saudi Arabia are offering to artificially boost the popularity of hashtags to make them trend on Twitter – in contravention of the social media network’s rules. The price to get automated “bot” accounts to make a hashtag trend for a few hours is around £150 ($200).

It was an odd topic for people to suddenly be talking about.

In early December a phrase which roughly translates as “Grilled Lamb Delivery” was a top trending phrase on Twitter in Saudi Arabia. Nearly 17,000 tweets mentioned the phrase – most of them promoting just one restaurant, and listing its phone number.

As it turned out, thousands of “people” weren’t in fact talking about one establishment’s meat products, as succulent, juicy or overcooked as they might have been. In fact, the “Grilled Lamb Delivery” hashtag was a clandestine advertising campaign being pushed – successfully – by a network of automated bot accounts.

The lamb trend is one of many artificially manufactured hashtags which regularly hit Twitter’s list of “Trending Topics” in Saudi Arabia. They’re promoted by shadowy companies that make money by gaming the social network’s algorithm in an attempt to make conversations seem organic and natural – when they are anything but.


You might also be interested in


“Trending Topics”

At its most basic, Twitter’s “Trending Topics” list is a real-time gauge of what people are talking about on the network. If you’re looking at Twitter on a desktop, the list usually runs in a prominent position along the side of the page (circled below in red):

Image copyrightTwitter

On the Twitter mobile phone app, the list is one of the first things you see if you touch the magnifying glass icon.

Image copyrightTwitter

There’s a worldwide list of Trending Topics, but also separate local lists detailing what’s going big in individual countries and cities. Users can easily change their settings and look at lists from around the world.

Image copyrightTwitter

What goes on the Trending Topics lists is governed by an algorithm that measures not only sheer popularity (i.e. the total number of tweets), but velocity – in other words, how fast certain topics are surging on the network. It’s why, for instance, names associated with breaking news and popular news site headlines often crack the list very quickly.

Companies can pay Twitter to appear on the list. But these “Promoted Trends” are clearly marked as advertising.

That’s not the case for the artificially trending hashtags BBC Trending found.

Congratulations Fahima!

Our investigation discovered that companies in Saudi Arabia are promising to make hashtags hit the Trending Topics list for relatively small sums – and in many cases they are succeeding.

To boost the popularity of otherwise mundane phrases and hashtags, these companies are using networks of bots – automated accounts which are programmed to shoot out a stream of messages at a particular time.

Trending approached several companies which claimed to be able to make hashtags trend. Eventually we managed to contact the company behind the “Grilled Lamb” hashtag campaign.

After a series of negotiations via WhatsApp, we were charged $200 (just under £150) to get the Arabic equivalent of “Congratulations Fahima” onto Saudi Arabia’s Trending Topics list.

The person behind the company promised that he could get the hashtag trending throughout the Gulf country. One attempt was aborted when the company representative said that high Twitter traffic due to a celebrity wedding meant he could not make the hashtag trend on our first chosen date.

He was more successful several days later. The hashtag hit the list of top trends in the Saudi city of Jeddah, reaching as high as the sixth slot on the list.

Image copyrightTwitter
Image caption The sixth phrase on this list – “Congratulations Fahima” – appeared for a few hours as a top Twitter trend in Jeddah

The botnet used by the company pumped out more than 600 messages including the “Congratulations Fahima” hashtag. But once it hit the list of Twitter Trends, real people began to use it. Some asked who Fahima was or claimed to be her friend.

“I know Fahima!” tweeted one. “She just had quadruplets!”

Bot limitations

There were definite limitations to the power of the company’s botnet. The hashtag did not make it onto the general list of trends in Saudi Arabia – although other hashtags, like the “Grilled Lamb” one, did trend nationwide.

And claims by the company and other similar firms that they could get hashtags trending in the UK and other Western countries appear to be highly exaggerated.

But the ability to force something onto the trending list is impressive in a country where Twitter is hugely popular. According to a survey in 2014, Saudi Arabia had 2.4 million Twitter users – more than 40% of all active users of the social network in the Arab region.

Trending tried to call the number associated with the WhatsApp account which handled the transaction, but the man who answered denied knowing anything about the company’s business.

Political potential

Hashtags which appear to be advertising in disguise regularly trend in Saudi Arabia. And although the most obvious ones are commercial in nature, there is potential for political manipulation as well, according to Marc Owen Jones, a lecturer of the history of the gulf and the Arabian Peninsula at Exeter University.

“I realised in the last Saudi-Qatar crisis that thousands of accounts were producing information that are either fake or propaganda,” he says.

“What’s interesting is having lots of these accounts is that they can manipulate what’s seen by many audiences in the world, so the more accounts you have picking on a certain topic the more the topic gets pushed up to trend.”

“Having those bots makes people believe that this is what people in the Gulf are talking about,” he said.


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Twitter said it was aware of the issue and that it is committed to weeding out botnets and people trying to manipulate its system.

“Attempting to game trending topics is a practice as old as Trends on Twitter themselves, and over the years we’ve invested heavily in thwarting spam and other automated attempts to manipulate Trends,” the company told the BBC in a statement.

“We take active measures to protect against trend gaming, such as excluding automated Tweets and users from our calculations of a Trend.

“Importantly, as spammers change their tactics we actively modify our technological tools to address such situations.”

Twitter said that since June 2017, it has detected an average of 130,000 accounts per day which are trying to manipulate the trends list. The company said it is taking steps to stop manipulation but declined to give details about its actions, stating that “saying more about those steps would only help bad actors.”

Reporting by Fahima Abdulrahman and Anisa Subedar

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