Sunday, February 25, 2007

How To Buy Popularity

Popularity was never easily measured, until the advent of social-networking sites. Now, prospective employers and others can gain some insights into an applicant’s lifestyle and character by looking at a person’s social-networking page, including the roster of friends.

So what if a job applicant’s networking page lacks friends?

Enter, a business founded by Brant Walker, which offered users of and similar sites a way to enhance their page with photographs and comments from hired “friends” — mainly attractive models — for 99 cents a month each.

FakeYourSpace was doing very well, attracting 50,000 hits a day, until a service that provided the photographs of the models,, noticed that use and objected to it.

Kelly Thompson, iStockPhoto’s vice president for marketing, said its licensing agreement did not allow Web sites to post photos that might lead the average person to “think that the model endorses” the product, Web site or person in question.

IStockPhoto’s network of 30,000 photographers police the Internet for such contractual infractions. When they noticed how FakeYourSpace was using the photos, they reported it to iStockPhoto, which asked Mr. Walker to stop using the photographs.

He complied, and FakeYourSpace, while still viewable online, will not be fully operational again until Thursday. Mr. Walker is searching for models through agency and online auditions to replace those that had been provided by iStockPhoto, which was recently purchased by Getty Images.

But is FakeYourSpace’s business legal? The site certainly misrepresents people, but Mr. Walker, 26, said he thought that its intent was more altruistic than fraudulent.

A graduate of Platt College, a graphics and multimedia specialty school in San Diego, Mr. Walker runs the site from his San Diego home with two employees. He said the idea came to him when he noticed, while browsing MySpace pages, that “some people would have a lot of good-looking friends, and others didn’t.”

His idea, he said, was “to turn cyberlosers into social-networking magnets” by providing fictitious postings from attractive people. The postings are written by the client or by Mr. Walker and his employees, who base the messages on the client’s requests. FakeYourSpace says it does not post any messages that are threatening, pornographic or illegal.

MySpace and other social-networking sites appear to have no rules prohibiting Mr. Walker’s idea. The leading sites, MySpace, Friendster and facebook, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Walker’s business is a variation on a growing phenomenon that Bruce Schneier, a blogger at, a Web site for the business technology magazine InfoWorld, refers to as “the social network reputation hack.” and offer similar services, using fake cellphone calls scheduled in advance to provide an excuse to escape a tedious situation, like a bad date, or to make the subscriber appear in demand.

While they may be less than honest, FakeYourSpace and similar sites are currently legal, as long as the content they post is legitimately licensed. Mr. Walker said his second business, a Web site called that removes unwanted friends from a user’s profile by third-party messenger, had yet to have any legal trouble.


Hacking MySpace: Mods and Customizations to make MySpace Your Space


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