Reputation Gaming with the Sybil Attack

Online reputation management, be it a personal reputation or a corporate reputation, has become a growing issue for marketers over the past few years. Groups are popping up devoted to helping you manage, and in some cases clean up, your digital reputation.

On the flip side of that, there is another group also emerging – reputation gamers. Reputation gamers are abusing the very reputation management systems responsible for our digital lifestyle such as Google, Del.icio.us, eBay and Digg, etc.

Here is an example of such activity:

Digg is a site where its members can submit articles, along with a short description and a link, in the Digg system. Other members look through these articles and choose either to “digg” or “bury” stories. Articles with the most “diggs” make it onto the site’s widely read front page.

One reputation gamer’s method of choice was the so-called Sybil attack. Named after the famous case of a woman with 16 personalities, a Sybil attack occurs when an individual opens multiple accounts and has them all recommend the same article. If it gets enough votes, the story could make it to the front page of Digg, with a huge payoff. Getting on the Digg front page is equivalent to a front page story in a major publication, drawing millions of readers who have the potential to catapult a story to the top of a Google search. If the Digg site has advertisers, it could be a financial windfall. If the site sells something — say a widget or a T-shirt — the rewards can be even greater!

Where’s the Buzz? First of all, let me be clear – I do not recommend this type of activity. The Web 2.0 world is meant to operate in a self-policing way, much like Wikipedia. Marketers who go down the Sybil attack or a similar path should beware their reputation as a marketer is at stake. As for the sites themselves, I guess we need to think, perhaps worry, about the reputation of the reputation management systems themselves!

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