The internet is littered with questionable news websites which make millions a year from selling ads spaces to Google and Amazon. A new report from BBC highlights one of such websites, forbesbusinessinsider.com.
The website is not affiliated to either Forbes or Business Insider in any way. The website just copies and pastes entire articles from other publishers and reposts them with very slight changes.
The report highlights that there are 350 million registered domain names on the internet stating that its impossible to count how many are sham news sites as experts suggest.
But just like legitimate websites, they earn money from the major tech companies that pay them to display ads, a couple being Google and Amazon which are two of the world’s biggest players in the digital advertising industry.
The website in question forbesbusinessinsider.com was promoting ads from major brands like Sephora and Vitality insurance.
Google stopped displaying ads on the site after an alert was given to Google by the BBC but Amazon is still doing so.
The site was created by a web design firm based in Karachi, Pakistan. Designer Shahzad Memon told the BBC his company built forbesbusinessinsider.com as a test to find ways of increasing search engine optimisation – the ability to make a link to a site appear high up in search results for certain queries.
“You don’t have to be an advanced hacker to do this,” said Dr Augustine Fou, a digital advertising expert based in New York.
“As long as you know a little bit of code, you can build a basic website using templates.”
The laredotribune.com website also – at first glance – appears to be a regular news site for a city in south Texas. There are stories about local residents and President Trump’s border wall with Mexico
Fake page views
The stories on these sham publication sites have no publication date. There are no contact details for the editorial staff and the site loads slowly due to a large number of ads.
Yet the site has had 3.7 million page views over the past three months, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb article reports. the article suggests that these amount of page views are fake as bots are used to give the impression of high traffic, generating very real revenue for the site’s creators.
“We estimate each site is making at least $100,000 [£77,450] a month,” said Vlad Shevtsov, director of investigations at Social Puncher, the firm that exposed several fraudulent news sites. The organisation says ad fraud is a million-dollar industry.
Ads for major UK brands including Virgin Media, Superdrug and even TV Licensing were all displayed on related sham news sites seen by the BBC.