Researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, in partnership with NPR, have discovered thousands of LinkedIn profiles with fake pictures and details.
In all, there appear to be over 1,000 profiles using AI-generated display pictures, which are often given away by having too-perfect attributes, according to researchers Renée DiResta and Josh Goldstein.
NPR reports that many of these fake profiles are being used as a marketing tool to drum up interest in real companies. A fake profile contacts a real person; if they show interest, a real salesperson takes up the conversation.
An analysis found that over 70 businesses were listed on these 1,000 fake profiles, some of which told NPR that they hired outside marketers to expand sales. One reason for using fake profiles could be to get around LinkedIn's limits on the volume of organic messaging.
"Our policies make it clear that every LinkedIn profile must represent a real person. We are constantly updating our technical defenses to better identify fake profiles and remove them from our community, as we have in this case," said LinkedIn spokesperson Leonna Spilman.
"At the end of the day it's all about making sure our members can connect with real people, and we're focused on ensuring they have a safe environment to do just that."
The fake profile conundrum
The anonymity provided by the internet is the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of identity theft, fake accounts and strange behaviour.
Facebook has for years struggled with fake accounts. The service regularly removes over one billion fake accounts per quarter, highlighting the sheer scale of the problem. Twitter, too, is inundated with "egg" accounts that are often fake.
Fake accounts are useful for spreading specific messages (something Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia have been caught doing), scamming people, and generating buzz around certain topics.
In the case of LinkedIn, it seems the fake accounts are used to generate buzz around certain companies. RingCentral, one of the companies that appeared to be using the fake accounts, distanced itself.
"This is not how we do business," said RingCentral CISO Heather Hinton in an interview with NPR. "This was for us a reminder that technology is changing faster than even those of us who are watching it can keep up with. And we just have to be more and more vigilant as to what we do and what our vendors are going to do on our behalf."
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Max Slater-Robins has been writing about technology for nearly a decade at various outlets, covering the rise of the technology giants, trends in enterprise and SaaS companies, and much more besides. Originally from Suffolk, he currently lives in London and likes a good night out and walks in the countryside.