First Amazon got tough on fake reviewers. Now YouTube is taking a hard-line on underhand tactics to make it appear as if videos have had far more views than they have.
Some of the most famous music stars on the planet have found themselves caught up in the latest crackdown as their record labels are accused of manufacturing fake viewers.
In total, You Tube has removed more than 2 billion hits, with Universal, which looks after Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato losing 1 billion views and Sony, which has Rita Ora and Alicia Keys on its books, losing 850 million views.
Music industry sources say it was a simple housekeeping issue, putting any “inflated” figures down to the migration of their videos across different websites.
But YouTube said it was no bug or security breach, adding: “This was an enforcement of our viewcount policy.”
The crackdown was designed to target so-called black-hat techniques, which are when hackers artificially build up the numbers of views or likes on a YouTube video – meaning clips appear much more popular than they really are.
The figures became apparent on analysis by socialblade.com, which shows the bottom 500 YouTube users. Given Universal was at minus 1 billion, it’s unsurprising it found itself on the table along with Sony. Others hit included the Michael Jackson channel, Beyonce, Shakira, Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.
Even pop Svengali Simon Cowell has not been unaffected, or at least his protégé Leona Lewis, who lost nearly 24 million page views.
YouTube’s tough line immediately became a talking point on Black Hat World, a forum where users share unethical search engine optimisations tips. One forum users talked about a friend who “sells likes” saying customers were complaining their videos has been “deleted due to TOS violation”.
While Universal has acknowledged the drop in its viewing figures, it says the YouTube Universal Music Group channel has not really been used since the company moved to Vevo, founded by Universal along with Sony, Abu Dhabi Media Company, and E1 Entertainment three years ago.
Despite Universal’s blasé comment about the situation, it must surely come as a blow as YouTube is the first port of call for internet users looking for music videos. In total, YouTube attracts more than 800 million unique visitors each month, who collectively watch more than 4 billion hours of video.
The number of hits on YouTube music videos also means it is regarded as a bit of an unofficial worldwide music chart and YouTube viewer figures are also the way the site works out how to share its advertising revenue with partners.
The cull has also meant videos have been taken down completely from YouTube, with Universal left with only five videos on the site and Sony with only three.
In its terms and conditions, YouTube sets out its stance on view counts, saying, they are “one of the most scrutinised measures of popularity on YouTube” The site adds: “Careers have been made because of view counts” and says paying for views “could well be a violation of our terms and one that we take very seriously.”