May 10, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Hijacking MySpace for fame and fortune

Brandon Hoffman has found thousands of friends on MySpace. Not for himself, but for his clients: car dealerships.

Hoffman, who works for KEA Advertising in Valley Cottage, N.Y., has built MySpace profiles for several car dealers. He then contacts other members of the network asking them to be a "friend" to the business, using software tools to target those he thinks might be interested.

"You can become part of their network and develop a relationship. It is better than banner advertising, because you get to interact with the actual potential customer," he said.

Hoffman is one of a growing number of enterprising MySpace users who are using software to exploit the hugely popular social networking site for profit or fame. But the tools they use are controversial. While they aren't illegal, they clearly are designed to get around some of MySpace's security and other restrictions--something the service expressly forbids.

MySpace has become one of the most talked-about sites on the Web. The online community service, owned by media conglomerate News Corp., claims to have about 70 million users. It caters mostly to a young crowd, between the ages of 16 and 25. This hasn't gone unnoticed by marketers, who have used the site to promote music and movies.

"There are a lot of people to be reached and a lot of impressionable minds on MySpace," Hoffman said. "Surprisingly enough, these people want to be 'friends' with car dealers."

Using special tools, marketers and people seeking fame on MySpace can game the system and take advantage of what experts call "unintended features" allowed by the Web site. These features include data mining of profiles on the site and automation of messages to members. It is possible to mine the service to pinpoint MySpace members in particular regions and with specific interests--a punk music fan from San Francisco, for instance. The marketers can then blast out hundreds of requests to their targets, asking them to join their network of friends.

Via a simple interface, the tools also let them send the same comment, which could include a promo, to a mass of member profiles or enable them to mass-mail an invite to an event. There are other features, such as a function that will prevent any messages being sent to abandoned MySpace profiles.

"You are starting to see the beginnings of a huge wave of exploiting Web applications," said Caleb Sima, chief technology officer of SPI Dynamics, a company that specializes in security for online applications. "The sites have not been developed in the frame of mind that somebody can exploit this."

In its terms of service, MySpace forbids such use of tools to add friends. Furthermore, the company doesn't allow use of its Web site for "any commercial endeavors."

"MySpace was created to allow friends to organically communicate, connect and discover shared interests," a representative for the social networking site said. "Any automated use of the system, such as using scripts to add friends, is a violation of the company's terms of use, as they upset the ecosystem of the network and go against the very principles upon which the company was founded."

Promotional tools for MySpace are offered for sale by at least two online businesses, Silent Productions and FriendBot.

Justin Lavoie, the man behind Silent Productions, said the Web site has 1,000 or so customers, including Hoffman and Eek Records, an online music label. On its site, Eek Records says its uses the technology to boost its artists on MySpace. With a high "friend" ranking, bands stand a greater chance at getting discovered and making it big in the offline world.

Lavoie said Silent Productions is working on products to use with networking Web site Friendster and TagWorld, an online music community. Its MySpace software costs between $50 and $75. "It's done well for me," Lavoie said.

On its site, Silent Productions says that its software, such as its automated Friend Request Broadcast, is automatically updated when there are new features or there is "a new change in MySpace to be reckoned with."

Lavoie defended the tools, saying they were designed to run targeted marketing campaigns and help people manage their MySpace presence. "I really believe it improves the quality of the system. I do not see what is being exploited, as it is only ameliorating the current model, not sucking anything out of it," he said.

But they do more than just automate requests. They also get around a MySpace security measure, called a "captcha." MySpace sometimes requires site visitors to read graphically distorted text--often wavy, against a patterned background--and type it into a box. This feature, designed to distinguish between machine and human requests, is typically meant to prevent spamming.

This all falls into the area of tricking Web applications, said Jeremiah Grossman, the chief technology officer at Web application security specialist WhiteHat Security. Such trickery happens quite a lot and often in areas you wouldn't expect, he said. For example, some people use such methods to automate a process to score points on virtual pet Web site Neopets, or to have the top posting on a message board "to gain karma," he said.

"Even online auctions have/had to deal with issues where bidders would trick the system into locking out other bidders," he added.

Lavoie acknowledged that some of his clients have used Silent Productions' software to build popularity or to send spam on MySpace. However, he said the applications fill a gap in the MySpace service, enabling people to manage a large number of contacts. "The tools can be used for good or evil, just as a knife or a gun," he said.

Cherie Roberts, a glamour model and MySpace celebrity, said she has used the software to keep in touch with her MySpace friends--which counted at least 100,000 people when she started using it.

"I couldn't keep up with all of my correspondence, so I did try to appease the people who were asking for some kind of interaction from me," Roberts said. Still, MySpace is a marketing tool for Roberts. "It did help me drive more traffic to my site, and it also helped get my name out to people," she said.

Lavoie said he has received letters from MySpace demanding Silent Productions cease operations. He declined to name any of his customers, and Hoffman doesn't want his names of his car dealers disclosed, out of fear that their MySpace profiles will be deleted.

"These tools are likely taking advantage of the system in a way MySpace did not intend," said WhiteHat Security's Grossman. "MySpace would be compelled to ban those who use these tools."

Yet Grossman doesn't think the tools are illegal. He suggested the best way for MySpace to respond would be not to send cease-and-desist letters but to embrace the apparent demand for such software, he said.

"They should embrace them as a business opportunity," Grossman said. "These tools represent a motivated developer network desiring to improve the immensely popular MySpace platform."

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20 comments

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lol...
ic ould care less about being a "friend" with a car dealer, but if hes a smart car dealer with good *discounts* for friedns, then hes a possible *tool* to save money, and possibly a freind after that, me personally ive never even see a car dealership on there much less on my friends list, i have however added a ton of indy bands to support them
Posted by Nocturnex (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't friend me, I'll friend you.
Spam is a problem on MySpace.

I've got businesses on my friends list (a radio station and a couple bars), but they're ones that I've chosen to add because these are businesses that I like.
Posted by (54 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not getting the concept of "a time and a place"
"They should embrace them as a business opportunity," Grossman said. "These tools represent a motivated developer network desiring to improve the immensely popular MySpace platform."

No, this represents a slimy used car sales person trying to make a quick buck - no more, no less. Its truly amazing how utterly stupid advertising clients are - under the spell of slimy, slick advertising sales people. Advertisers - whether on television or those now invading "My Space" never have the intelligence to ask what the negative impact is - the price their product has to pay for invading places that are specifically desired to be and therefore designed to be - advertising free. For the past 3 yrears there has a been a rapidly growing campaign all over the country to boycott products advertised in advertisement free media productions. Billions of dollars of advertisning budgets have essentially been canceled by people who refuse to let advertisers insert themselves into a time and place they were not invited. You can search for an find several list of abusive advertisers that should be boycotted. I have yet to hear one advertiser ever ask how many sales he might potentially lose for inserting his ad into - say My Space. I would hope this article citing Grossman as an invader of My Space would receive some serious blow back from My Space fans commenting on Grossman's gross attitude and very much in his face. Even better into his advertisers faces. These are the same kinds of people who want to cancel Network Neutrality so they can then insert their sales pitches into your lives whether you like it, pay for privacy, or not. If you want to stop this invasive crap, boycott the advertisers who support it.
Posted by masonx (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not Getting the Concept Of Myspace
Apparently you have never been on Myspace because the last time I checked it is a social networking site riddled (and I mean JAM PACKED) with advertising. Each page has several banners, buttons and other advertising oppurtunities. The community is an advertising supported website. So I would say yes there is a time and a place for everything. Maybe an advertiser shouldnt push his message at your sunday service but Myspace is as good a time and a place as any.
Posted by narsticle (1 comment )
Link Flag
MySpace = space for child sex perdators
As easy as it is for a teen to set up a myspace page it is also for a sex predator to contact them, or to set up his fake page, etc.
I bit you for each real pages on Myspace 10 pages are by scammers or hoaxers, etc.
All you have to do to see this is to contact a few, and you will see what I mean. That is all too often you get the same scam message from Nigerian guys looking to get money to help them secure a 10Mill oil deal, or a Ukrainian woman looking for love/hubby, etc.

So be warned when using these free so called online communities.
Posted by caudio_roma (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wow..
you managed to make very little sense in that entire post. *golf clap*

the original topic was about companies using myspace to market. it had nothing to do with child predators on myspace.

your comment about it being a "free so called online comunity"... yeah, uhm.. it is free, it is online, and it is a community, so your "so called" comment was totally wasted.

you know.. i've been on myspace for well over 3 years, i've never once had someone trying to meet me for sex, and i've never once had spam from the nigerian guys with 10mil (i get those emails from aol'ers all the time though...)

step back and take a look at what you are doing before you try to blame it on everyone else though.
Posted by thatxbxtchxnicoll (46 comments )
Link Flag
Yes,parents should pay attention
Hi Caudio,
Yes, it is a place for parents to be aware of what their kids are doing the same as any use of the net.
I see you were given an ugly response, but if one can make issue of commercial misuse of the site, which I am sure the experienced business-people who own and operate the site can figure out what they want to do about that, then one, can bring up more serious issues such as child predators. I cannot fathom why this would upset anyone in bringing notice of that very real problem.
I am the mother of a 15 year old. It is amazing of how many of her class- mates conduct themselves much like age-ole streetwalkers on the site. Since the site does not allow nudity, they do keep their clothes on. I am sure the parents do not know what they are doing, how they are talking, etc on the site.
One young girl calls herself a name too perverted and graphic for me to post on this site. She also poses as sexual as she can in trying to provoke images of sexual acts. Ok, so this might be cool to many of the teens along with the prevalent wanna- be lewd, crude, gansta talk.
However, it is also a major promotion to entice child perverts. She is not yet 15 years old. She has her site set to private , but has sixty some friends. One friend can just walk right through one friend  pic to the other and get to her site. Not too private ; ). I think she feels this is keeping her mother from her site and it probably is right now.
On the other hand, loads of the teens on there do act decent while looking pretty or handsome; hot as they would say, and do not want to entice the pervs.
We all know the WWW is a wild west. I agree with the freedoms it is still trying to uphold. Or the idea of the freedoms, but not all the threats we are subjected to by putting a modem into a phone jack, or having a modem enabled computer of any type. I think the various internet freedoms are wonderful and do not want to see the internet held too staunch, yet some things warrant the on-going battle to attempt to tackle them. Spam set us crazy. Phishing is still rampant. Data miners are an invasion of privacy to me. A new world of commercial success opened up with people creating anti-virus ware, spy ware, etc and some of these were the same enablers of the dirty deeds, etc. And in keeping with the topic of this reply, places like My Space or other chat areas could put children in harms way. In fairness, My Space is one of many, and just more high profile right now.
I repeat the could about harms way, for parents must care to monitor what their children are doing. If the parents do not care, why should the kids? Children could talk to strangers on the street and end up stolen, but we try and teach them not to talk to strangers. Hence, why are not more parents monitoring the computer? Because the child would be mad, upset, feel not trusted? Bull. The children anyone underage-have plenty of time to ruin their lives on their own time when they are of age. Because the parents do not have the time or knowledge to monitor their children? Make time. Learn how.
Remember, many teens think they know more than the adults who give them a roof. Their smug attitudes often are comprised from the mistaken idea they have the supreme self-knowledge of all things, and it is one of the reasons they are extremely vulnerable. They also -often-do not let us know exactly what is really going on in their lives-by them or friends- for fear we will over react.
I saw a response once from a parent who was upset anyone would use a key logger to monitor the computer. Amazing. This person was not going to risk the trust between the child and parent. Hum. Risk trust or child? I put a key logger on my computer. One that is not for reaching anyone else, but a free-type self system monitor, and my eyes were opened. I did cry a bit at first.I had to have an in-depth chat with my wonderful child and get her back on track.Even the brightest can be swayed at times by peers.
I randomly run it (key logger) to have check-ups to make sure what is going on while she is playing on the WWW-My Space , AOL chat etc.. I did have to run one adult away, who was trying to sexually solicit my child for cyber sex. Made me feel sick, but reality can be harsh.
Bottom line, it is not the WWWs fault of what our children do, see, or are subjected to, but the parents. If we let them on there, we gotta be responsible for how we let them conduct themselves, moving them away from areas not fit, keeping them as protected as possible from people other than close friends, how far we allow them to surf, who is contacting them,etc. It is up to us, not My Space, and we should be vigil. Not that they should not know the risks, but why let them play near the freeway and not pull them out the way if a car is coming too close?
Again, this is from a parent who has checked out My Space, and I even have opened my own page. I have not added people-except one of the creator's who auto adds himself- or used it for anything, but to access the world of My Space and see what kind of people my child could be coming in contact with, and many are not acceptable . Many of her class-mates are unacceptable and their conduct on the My Space site let me privately judge and deny any after-school interaction.
I reinforce, parents are responsible for their childrens safety, not the WWW. Get a self-monitoring system key logger that runs in stealth. One solely for your own computer and randomly run it. Be the adult.
Wishing us all happy surfing and safe children,
Page S
Posted by Page S (7 comments )
Link Flag
really?
I have never had a problem like that. You coud repor abuse to
MySpace, I think your comment is quite exxagerated.
Posted by traveler273 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Why us parents must mind MySpace
Why parents must mind MySpace

Posting too much information on social networking sites may be dangerous

Reference NBC News

Boston, MA
Posted by gerard rotonda (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why us parents must mind MySpace
Why parents must mind MySpace

Posting too much information on social networking sites may be dangerous

Reference NBC News

Boston, MA
Gerard Rotonda
Posted by gerard rotonda (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Police Shooter Michael Kennedy myspace site
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.potomacnews.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WPN%2FMGArticle%2FWPN_BasicArticle&#38;c=MGArticle&#38;cid=1137835980706&#38;path=" target="_newWindow">http://www.potomacnews.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WPN%2FMGArticle%2FWPN_BasicArticle&#38;c=MGArticle&#38;cid=1137835980706&#38;path=</a>

he was looking for fame

he got it. killed 1 police woman and got his ass shot to death.

freaking myspace
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looking for fame? Really?
I have to disagree with your comment. He was not seeking fame. How can you attribute this tragedy as the fault of my space? Mentally instable people existed long before our modern technology. Technology (video games, internet, etc) does not cause these conditions; it is a chemical imbalance which does.

It sounds to me like Myspace was one of his only sources of social networking. This young man spent most of his time in seclusion because of his appearance. The article implies that he was ridiculed in public. Maybe if people actually listened and got him help this tragedy could have been averted.

My condolences to the police officer's family and the young man's family.
Posted by (20 comments )
Link Flag
ORKUT.COM - much safer
myspace is so yesterday

ORKUT forever!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Myspace Jack
"I have a history of facilitating safe havens for many people. I
also
have much respect for what the Internet is, can and will do for
your
voice and media. So I am introducing a site that when populated
can
serve as an extremely useful tool for many of our service and
social
needs. 'Metroproper' is a profile-driven search engine, with daily
front page classifieds, voter-based journalism and linkage in
over 200
major cities proper."

Phil Tadros with the Proper Network

Now accepting emails towards launch date notification:
www.metroproper.com
Posted by philcoextra (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Myspace Jack
"I have a history of facilitating safe havens for many people. I
also
have much respect for what the Internet is, can and will do for
your
voice and media. So I am introducing a site that when populated
can
serve as an extremely useful tool for many of our service and
social
needs. 'Metroproper' is a profile-driven search engine, with daily
front page classifieds, voter-based journalism and linkage in
over 200
major cities proper."

Phil Tadros with the Proper Network

Now accepting emails towards launch date notification:
www.metroproper.com
Posted by philcoextra (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Frunity
Myspace is one of the most popular and biggest social networking places to go on the internet but that is not suprising considering the the people who own are very well off shall we say.

I would like to let everyone know that there is a new site that i heard off will be launched around about 1st October 2006 and of which is called Frunity (friends community) and i have seen this new site and WOW with a capital W.

There is so much you can do on there like create your own profile and so much more to list ie music, podcasts, schools that you can join with a click of a button, online games that you can play at a click of a button and trust me much more.

I can see Frunity becoming a major success that i believe will catch up to the big boys, they have so much you can do there, the best thing in my eyes to do is JOIN which is totally free nothing zilch to see for yourself what i mean...

Myspace is great but Frunity i can see will be just as good if not better.
Posted by mschubb (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
simon
sorry forgot to give you address

www.frunity.com

Join and have fun it is the way forward in my eyes
Posted by mschubb (2 comments )
Link Flag
Press Release: MySpaceforBusiness.com Launches
MYSPACEFORBUSINES.COM
20-29 49th Street
Astoria, NY 11105-1205
Phone (718) 521-4974
Fax (509) 355-8869

Press Release

Contact: Edwin De Jesus
Phone: (718) 521-4974

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
11/2/2006 9:03 AM

MySpaceforBusiness.com Launches

Astoria, NY November 2, 2006 EDJ Associates, Inc. (www.edj-associates.com), an online business consulting firm for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs), today announced the launch of its new Business Networking Web site: www.myspaceforbusiness.com. The new MySpace&. for Business, is exactly what the name implies, modeled after the popular myspace.com, except that we focus exclusively on business networking, targeted towards SMBs, said MySpaceforBusiness.com President Edwin De Jesus
The site includes free tools and features such as:
" a user generated content management and a customizable page system that provide users the ability to submit business profiles.
" MySpaceforBusiness.coms extensive collection of business content, which include useful links to additional related resources, relevant sponsored links and featured solutions from third party partners.
" online office applications and web mail capabilities
" business matchmaking services
" downloads and calculators
" articles and forums

We created an essential technology platform for the site based on research and conversations with entrepreneurs aimed at what is required of todays online properties. We are committed to empowering users with interesting tools that they can use to further improve their online experience and individuality,.
Effective content search and easily accessible tools for content creation have completely changed readers relationships with the internet from passive to active. Our site can respond to what our readers need and how they want it delivered. We also offer advertisers the ability to reach these highly qualified prospects, while they are browsing for specific solutions.
About MySpaceforBusiness.com:
MySpace for Business is an online community that lets you meet with your business colleagues and develop new ones. It's also an online marketplace and social business networking site where you can exchange goods, ideas or information with anyone you choose, anywhere you want. Buy, Sell, Swap, Communicate . . . wherever you want!

MySpaceforBusiness.com is new and is still in its beta phase, yet already, it has generated plenty of interest among users and advertisers alike. Advertisers, which include: Staples, Capital One, Travelocity, NetZero, EBay, Value Web, Best Western, Comp USA, Daimler Chrysler, The Sharper Image, The Hyatt, PayPal and many others.
Posted by edjassociates (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
business man feel bad on myspace because of the captcha things
as you said, it is a big chance for business on myspace, but the captcha sucks, it blocks many such chances

many ocr released for a solution for captcha, but then myspace upgrade their captcha again, LOL

also many human solution like <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://byebyecaptcha.com" target="_newWindow">http://byebyecaptcha.com</a> also want to solve the problem , but many someday, myspace will email them and try to stop their service

myspace captcha sucks, I can only say this
Posted by daizisheng (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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