Bots on the internet are nothing new. Dating apps are full of them, social media sites have been struggling with this problem for years, and overall people have gotten quite good at detecting and ignoring bots. They mostly appear as background noize to anyone browsing their news feed or social media reel nowadays. For those less familiar with how things work on the internet they still pose a certain threat though, and that is why I wanted to address the issue today.
To gather materials for writing my blog posts and an occasional guest post or article I have to go through a lot of dating-related information each day. One of the ways to stay in the loop on Twitter is to follow or search for specific keywords and hashtags. This, along with following the relevant accounts, creates a Twitter feed that is full of dating industry news, and an occasional funny story or two.
I have discovered that this feed has been going off topic more and more recently. When I decided to look into this a little closer I found out that the accounts spamming my hashtags of choice look very similar to each other, and an example of one of those accounts is on the screenshot below.
I discovered dozens of accounts that fit the same description and are used to do the exact same thing. Account names and pictures vary, but they all follow the same pattern. The account will have an attractive half naked woman’s picture as the avatar, and the feed will be comprised of meaningless retweets, with the only activity outside retweeting being a tweet like the ones below:
So, what’s going on here? It is likely that all of these profiles are a part of a bot network that is created and maintained to drive traffic to a specific site. While they do not have a lot of followers, they maintain the visage of being somewhat active by following people and retweeting random things. The way they actually get people to visit the target site is by invading hashtag feeds. I described above how I follow certain hashtags to stay informed, and a lot of other people do the same thing. Someone can follow #cooking for example to get recipes, or #movies to search for the latest film news. When these bot accounts make a post, they make sure to include 2 or 3 of the relative hashtags. And while most of these have nothing to do with dating, quite a few they use do: #adultdating, #tinder, #datingtips, #matchmaking, #datingsites, etc. This way they will appear in the feed of users who follow dating related hashtags.
Now we know how, let’s get down to why. All of these accounts point to just two sites as their target – camsy.me and titty.me. Both of them are made to look like cam-sites. Cam-sites are adult sites that let useres watch other people perform sexual or near sexual acts live, chat with them, support them by tips, etc. There are plenty of such sites in existence, and emergence of two new ones would not be at all surprising. The sites in question are NOT cam sites however, even though the tweets that led you there and the site names would make you believe otherwise. In fact, they aren’t even real sites at all.
Both of those domains are used to do a very specific thing – to redirect traffic via a smart-link to a shady dating site that uses the same old “Naked single users near INSERTYOURHOMETOWN area!”. A smart link is something that is used in marketing to detect what country the user is from, what device they use, and a bunch of other various metrics to ultimately send the user to the target site that corresponds with all this information best. For example, a male user using his iPhone in the US will be sent to one site, and an Android user from France – to a completely different one. I took things a bit further and used traffic analyzers to find out that more than 70 000 users have tried to access these two sites using a direct link(that’s just typing the address you see on these pictures into your browser) in the last 6 months.
So the full picture becomes somewhat clear now, and while all of its parts aren’t new or groundbreaking, or even that shady, the sum of all of them paints a different picture. We have intrusive bot accounts that invade users’ news feed, show them explicit pictures and invite them to a webcam site. Instead of taking users to a specific place (which would make it much easier to complain or get the whole network shutdown) the smartlink then sends them to one out of any number of shady dating sites that I would never trust with my information, much less my credit card number.
Like I said before, bots are nothing new, and those who send them out into the world will always find new ways to make money with them. This method is new today, but might be long forgotten and useless in a month or two. Or it might be here to stay, who knows. Hopefully with this information in tow it will be easier for everyone to recognize these accounts for what they are and scroll by their messages without giving them another thought.