Tech

Facebook's new machine learning tool is spammers and scammers' worst nightmare

Thanks to three words that should strike fear in fake users' hearts: Deep Entity Classification.

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Tracking and eliminating fake accounts on social networks is very similar to an interminable game of whack-a-mole; you hammer one down, another pops up. In Facebook's world, this means that the firm is never truly done with rooting out fake accounts. A new machine learning tool called Deep Entity Classification (DEC), though, has seen considerable success with spotting and taking spammers and scammers to task, though, as ZDNet reports.

In 2019, Facebook removed 6.6 billion fake accounts with the help of DEC. The tool also blocked millions of daily attempts to create fake accounts, according to Facebook's data science manager, Bochra Gharbaoui, who spoke with ZDNet about the challenges of staying ahead of the scammers. Thanks to DEC, the current volume of fake Facebook accounts is around 5 percent. Which isn't bad when you consider its enormous user base. But just as tools get smarter, so do scammers. So staying out in front requires constantly evolving.

How it works — DEC works by looking at how one Facebook profile interacts with the rest of the social network's community. So, instead of solely focusing on user profile characteristics in a vacuum — like the creation date of the account, the number of related friend requests made since inception, or what an account posts and how often — DEC goes deeper into the trajectory of an account and considers the pages, groups, and individuals the profile has contacted.

The system also looks at the number of friend requests sent by the accounts a particular profile is connected to. Through this holistic approach, DEC can effectively map the behavior of individual profiles, the kind of accounts each interacts with, and just how much of the genuine community it's a part of. From this analysis, the sysetm is able to disinguish between legitimate and fake accounts with an unprecedently high degree of accuracy.

Good riddance... with a caveat — Like all bad actors, online one quickly change their tactics to overcome new obstacles, and that's no different with DEC. So, while the 6.6 billion fake accounts Facebook has thwarted is no small feat, the company recognizes that the work of combating spammers and scammers is never done. Those who want to will eventually find a way to circumvent DEC in its present form. All the company can do is develop even more powerful and complex versions of the technology that become increasingly adept at telling legitimate user accounts from fake ones. But at least this time it feels like the social network has an advantage, however short-lived it may prove to be.