12 ways people trick algorithms for personal
 gain

How users outsmart Amazon, Spotify, Uber, and Facebook’s algorithms to increase profits and boost exposure. That’s right! The machines aren’t winning yet.

1

Uber drivers collectively go offline to trigger surge pricing.

At Reagan National Airport, drivers turn off their apps simultaneously for several minutes. The Uber-algorithm raises prices for new passengers because it assumes there are no drivers available. Drivers then turn the app back on to claim rides at a much higher rate.

2

Residents report fake roadblocks to Waze.

To prevent Waze steering traffic into their community at rush hour, people report fake traffic incidents to trick the company’s algorithm into directing cars away from certain streets.  

3

Use fake wedding announcements to beat the Facebook algorithm.

For extra attention, some Facebook users frame normal status updates as wedding or new-birth announcements by including words like ‘congratulations’ or ‘introducing.’ This tricks the Facebook algorithm into thinking their post is more important, giving it maximal visibility in the newsfeed. 

4

'Losing’ Bird
 scooters to make
 more money.

People who are paid to charge electric Bird scooters at night have been known to collect scooters and hold onto them, rather than scan them in immediately. After a while, Bird will assume these scooters are lost and raise the pay rate to encourage people to find and charge these scooters. Once rates are up, hunters scan in these ‘lost’ scooters and earn the extra cash. 

5

Faking steps to get cheaper life insurance.

Certain Chinese insurers are giving better rates to people who live a healthy lifestyle. To take advantage of this, some users place their phone in small, specially designed electric cradle which shakes it automatically, thus increasing their registered step-count and allowing them to claim a specific daily target.  

6

Digital EPO to create 
a more impressive 
work-out.

Before it was taken down, Digital EPO let people upload and edit their bike rides. On the site, you could tweak your data (lower heart rate, increase speed) before finally sharing it on Strava to impress friends.  

7

Claim you are somewhere else to gain rewards.

Apps like PokémonGo are constantly trying to prevent users from spoofing their GPS location to claim rewards. On the other hand, apps like Tinder go the opposite way by turning this ability into a paid feature and allowing people to use it to date in a city they’re not even in (yet).  

8

Free e-commerce coupons & discounts.

More people are starting to fill up their digital shopping baskets but hold off on proceeding to checkout. After a couple of days, some shops will send reminders – and discounts – to these shoppers to encourage them to finish the transaction.  

9

Making money from silent music.

Artists on Spotify are paid a tiny amount of money each time one of their songs gets played. Still, an indie band managed to turn a profit by creating a silent song and asked fans to play it on repeat at night while sleeping. They earned $20,000 before Spotify closed it down.  

10

Fake comments on LinkedIn for attention.

People can trick the LinkedIn algorithm into giving their post higher priority by writing ‘interested’ in the comments. This causes LinkedIn to give said post extra exposure because it assumes the content is engaging enough to inspire comments.  

11

Charting in Apple Podcasts using fake accounts.

Ranking in Apple Podcasts’ top charts can earn shows invaluable exposure. And there’s a company in Bangladesh that’s figured out how to game the system into guaranteeing their clients the number one spot – for a fee. How? They’ll play their show using fake Apple IDs, causing the algorithm to think it has the most listens. 

12

Sellers create artificial reviews on Amazon.

Unscrupulous sellers write fake reviews for their products using real or made-up accounts. This can make their offering look not only more trustworthy but more popular than competing options, leading to a better Amazon rating and more sales.  

Know of another way people are tricking algorithms?
Let us know!

Thanks!

I’m Nick De Mey, founder of Board of Innovation and foresight analyst at Venturesight. Let’s talk!

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