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Mafia Wars CEO Brags About Scamming Users 251

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
jamie writes with a follow-up to our recent discussion of social gaming scams: "Mark Pincus, CEO of the company that brought us Mafia Wars, says: 'I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues right away. I mean, we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar, which was like, I don't know... I downloaded it once and couldn't get rid of it.'" TechCrunch also ran a interesting tell-all from the CEO of a company specializing in Facebook advertisements, who provided some details on similarly shady operations at the popular social networking site.
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Mafia Wars CEO Brags About Scamming Users

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  • by lamapper (1343009) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:18AM (#30070486) Homepage Journal
    The guy is pretty much bragging about how and what he did to start his company. I can respect what he is created and still not like the method he used to do it.

    Anything that exposes additional personal information on us to the web is bad IMO. All personal info, should be OFF by default anything less is unacceptable. If I choose to click a box and expose personal info, it should only be by my choice, not to agree to a TOS.

    The guy even admits that the polls were BS, just collecting a user's personal information for selling to advertisers to generate revenue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by asliarun (636603)

      Is everyone getting inspired by Agassi now? Sheesh.

    • by genican1 (1150855) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @06:57AM (#30071096)
      I knew something was up when the zwinky download page asked for my blood type.
    • by INT_QRK (1043164)
      Hey, does anybody in the Justice Department read slashdot by any chance? Freebee anyone?
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:18AM (#30070488) Journal

    ... anyone using Facebook, that is. It's a pit of shady applications. Not even the nice applications are not annoying in some aspect. You can't even take a quiz there without having it try force itself onto others. Sometimes trying to fool you into thinking that the only way to see the results is to publish it to your friends.

    There was a time when we couldn't dream of malicious quizzes, and infesting horoscopes, but Facebook brings the necessary application intelligence to us. In a bad way. Their application API must be like a spammer's wet dream.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2009 @05:39AM (#30070816)

      My biggest problem with FB applications is the absurd policy about what rights do the applications have. Either you give them no rights at all (and can't use it) or you give them full access to all your and your friends' info. You can then go to settings and stop the application from posting to your wall, etc... But it has access to all the information you have access to.

      There are occasionally rather interesting looking small games, quizes, etc. that I would want to try out... But I don't want to give them full access to all my information! Those quizes don't need it at all, the application doesn't use any of it. Perhaps a list of friend names so it can show "Your friends got these results" but that's it.

      If there only was a way to use some checkbox list "Let these access list of my friends but not their (or my) relationshipstatus, their (or my) photos, the groups they (or I) belong to..." or anything like that, I would use a lot more applications. But it is either "Tell them everything or don't use them".

      • If you want to play the games so bad and don't want to give out your information, then the solution for now is to just have an account with no friends (a.k.a. the Saturday Night Slashdot Special.)

        • by SQLGuru (980662) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @08:13AM (#30071450) Journal

          But most of the games require you to have a certain number of "crew" to unlock certain parts of the game.....so you just need to friend other "Saturday Night Slashdot Special" accounts (at least 501 so you can max your Mafia) and go from there.

          • by ChefInnocent (667809) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @09:52AM (#30072576)
            For that you can sign up a bunch of people who want to be your "friend". I don't know about Mafia Wars, but I know Mobsters has a board for finding Mobster friends. This allows you to get the crew you need and not infect your real friends. It's like sleeping with a prostitute using someone elses junk.
          • Maybe we should form something like that? Facebook accounts with friends set up that have no other reason than to create a fake "social" network, with people nothing having in common but the common disinterest to let applications snoop their personal information?

            • by TheLink (130905)
              Yeah that's probably a good idea - have a bunch of Mafia/etc friends just to play games.

              Trouble is some bright spark from the FBI might get confused, kick your door down and confiscate your stuff :).
        • by Aceticon (140883)

          the Saturday Night Slashdot Special

          a.k.a. the Drive-By Trolling Account

      • by GospelHead821 (466923) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @07:37AM (#30071230)

        Let's assume that they're not doing anything illegal with your data. Let's even assume they're not doing anything shady like trying to install software that you won't be able to get rid of later. Is anybody else even a little bit sympathetic to the argument that this is how Facebook makes money? They don't charge their users. The only "product" they have to sell is their users' freely-given information. The Slashdot crowd tends to be more security conscious than others but I've actually thought about this one. Am I willing to trade some of my anonymity for the use of an interesting, free service? Yeah, a little bit, I am. Cue the zealots shouting about how I deserve to have my identity stolen and my credit trampled into the ground for my heresy.

        • by rho (6063)

          I think most people are that way. Most people tolerate TV ads, for example, or use those discount cards at the grocery store.

          I was willing to let Facebook know some things for their service, but not now. I got tired of every few months having to play the most played (and least popular) game on Facebook, "Oh Jesus, What's Changed Now, And How Can I Make It Go Away?". The News/Live feed thing did it for me. Yeah, I really want some Facebook programmer's script to determine what's "interesting" or "not inter

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by megamerican (1073936)

          On Facebook the user is the product.

      • by Xest (935314)

        Are you sure it gives the application access to all your friends info? I'm on Facebook but I'll admit I didn't realise this, so effectively although I never install these shitty apps, if what you say is true they could be leeching my information anyway? As I've refused giving these applications access to my personal information that would certainly seem to be a breach of the data protection act in the UK as I explicitly denied them access to my information when I recieved requests and of course, friends can

      • by The Moof (859402)

        But it has access to all the information you have access to.

        Actually, there's also settings to prevent all applications from accessing *anything* about you. I hunted it down when a friend's applications started posting things directed to/about me personally. I got frustrated because I never gave any app permission to read my information.

        Its at Settings > Privacy Settings > Applications > Settings

    • They don't serve any purpose to benefit the users, so why run them?
  • Business men (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tibia1 (1615959)
    This is just a business man summing up to the obvious things that run this sort of business. If you don't control your product to maximize revenues, you are decreasing your wealth.
    • Re:Business men (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chatterton (228704) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @05:07AM (#30070694) Homepage

      This is more like a bank robber that once he have all the money he need he open its night club and live from his hard earned money and never rob again. Shady business is shady business, successful and converted to a legitimate business or not sucessful.

    • by bcmm (768152)

      This is just a business man summing up to the obvious things that run this sort of business. If you don't control your product to maximize revenues, you are decreasing your wealth.

      If I don't steal all your money at gunpoint, I'm just decreasing my own wealth, right?

  • by Xerfas (1625945) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:43AM (#30070594) Journal
    A friend of mine wrote a program which installed on the users computer even when you clicked "No" on the do you wish to install this application in Internet Explorer. This was to reconnect the users modem to a modempool his boss had which was very hard to get rid off, because he wrote it very viral like. Remove one or 2-3 parts and suddenly you had it again.
    When I spoke to his boss about this and other stuff he had on their rippoff of the hotornot site he just shrugged and said it's in a gray area and not illegal yet so I don't care.
    People like this will always be out there and they don't care how they make money or who gets hurt as long as they have a nice income.
    • by bkr1_2k (237627)

      Installing specifically after a user says "no" is definitely not in a gray area... it's clearly "hacking" a system for your own use, which is definitely against the law, at least here in the USA.

  • by YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:48AM (#30070610) Homepage

    ... when people feel they need to get rich. This guy phrases it as 'controlling his destiny' to get profits as soon as possible, which IMHO reeks of addiction to money. And lets face it, some of the really rich people who control or own more or less reputable companies now have probably done some pretty shady things in the beginning of their career just to get to that point. Some probably just get there by chance, because they happen to have a talent that more or less by coincidence generates money, but some start with a real _need_ for money and power, which is a good incentive to not be too picky about morals and ethics. Thinks about real estate e.g., where lots of people are speculating hoping to get rich and ruthlessness can give you a real advantage.

    I read about a research a while ago (years, sorry no source) that states that acquiring large sums of money creates the same kind of euphoria as for instance using cocaine as it causes the same neurotransmitters to be produced in the brain. Irrational need for more and more money is a real addiction I think and should be treated as such.

    The only remarkable thing this guys is doing is being open and forward about it.

    • by Xerfas (1625945) * on Thursday November 12, 2009 @05:36AM (#30070806) Journal

      I read about a research a while ago (years, sorry no source) that states that acquiring large sums of money creates the same kind of euphoria as for instance using cocaine as it causes the same neurotransmitters to be produced in the brain. Irrational need for more and more money is a real addiction I think and should be treated as such.

      Did you mean something like this? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111579154 [npr.org] though it's more related to love according to this article.

      Researcher Xinyue Zhou, of the department of psychology at Sun Yat-Sen University in China, puts it in very human terms. "We think money works as a substitute for another pain buffer -- love."

      And they link to this pdf http://www.csom.umn.edu/assets/127771.pdf [umn.edu]
      Seems like if you handle money you can endure certain amounts of pain a bit more if the study is correct and you feel more strength.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by QuoteMstr (55051)

      Irrational need for more and more money is a real addiction I think and should be treated as such.

      Saying this won't be popular around here, but we already have a perfectly good treatment for wealth addition.

      It's called a highly progressive income tax, which includes capital gains.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bendodge (998616)

        No, that just punishes the honest ones and makes the rest wealthy tax cheats.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It's called a highly progressive income tax, which includes capital gains.

        I don't think that will cure money "addiction" any more than the high price of drugs cures drug addiction. No matter how much you tax cigarettes people are going to continue to smoke them.

        A highly progressive income tax makes sense because you should tax people who can afford it (taxing the poor is downright evil), and the fact that the rich benefit from government and its taxation far more than a poor person does.

        As to the capital ga

  • "I love the smell of commerce in the morning."

    The problem is that if he went to wall street or venture capitalists to get funding they would have just done everything they could to shaft him, so he tried to shaft as many other people as possible so he could avoid contact with them until he was a little bit stronger. Google did the same or though they did it in a more responsible manner as they had a better (more profitable) idea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arethuza (737069)
      Didn't Google's first plan to make money, selling search engines, fail rather badly? They only came up with their wildly succesful business model based on advertising after the first one failed. Note they still do sell search appliances, but it is a tiny percentage of their revenue.
      • by joss (1346)

        > Didn't Google's first plan to make money, selling search engines, fail rather badly?

        No, it was about advertising almost from the beginning.

        • by Ash Vince (602485) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @08:34AM (#30071618) Journal

          Actually he is right according "The Google Story" by David A Vise. Their original plan was to licence the underlying search technology to other search companies. It was only after they were stonewalled by every other search company who wanted to be able to skew results in favour of their best customers that they released their own search engine to the masses and started moving to an advertising based model.

          Even now they are very ambivalent with regard to advertising. The have the most high value piece of internet real estate in existence (http://www.google.co.uk/) and it does not contain a single advert.

          I know many people here may have bought into the current MS and AT&T sponsored "Google is Evil" campaign, but lets not forget they were shunned by every other search engine of the time as they were to interested in giving their users the most relevant results, not the results that made them the most money. Until this changes it will always be my home page as I wonder whether Bing and Yahoo would go to revenue based results at the drop if a hat if Google were out of the picture.

          • by burris (122191)

            Even now they are very ambivalent with regard to advertising. The have the most high value piece of internet real estate in existence (http://www.google.co.uk/) and it does not contain a single advert.

            You're totally wrong, there are tons of ads on the Google search engine, just not on the landing page. That's because untargeted ads aren't worth much. Why clutter up the page (which turns off users) and waste impressions (which turns off advertisers) by showing irrelevant ads (which also turns off users), b

  • Bad thieves and scammers steal and scam, and get squashed.

    Meh thieves and scammers steal and scam, and brag about it.

    Great thieves and scammers steal and scam, and get public funding as well as election votes.

    Why getting mad at this guy, while great scammers run the world?

  • by WarJolt (990309)

    I mean, we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar, which was like, I don't know... I downloaded it once and couldn't get rid of it.

    Hijackthis would usually get rid of most toolbars. Firefox toolbars are easier to get rid of.

  • by yoey (247125) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @06:37AM (#30071036) Journal

    "Behind every great fortune is a crime." -- Honoré de Balzac

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @06:44AM (#30071062)

    Whenever corporate mismanagement causes some calamity, people invariably decry the people responsible as "greedy bastards", "short-sighted morons", and so on. Although these statements are true, stating them is useless: greed, as a part of human nature, is here to stay. And organizations invariably elevate their most greedy and ambitious members because these are people are the ones who will exploit the rules to their advantage. Thus, given that greedy people will inevitably be in positions of power, we need to construct rules which ensure that this greed doesn't harm society. These rules need to make it the greedy party's interest to be a good participant in society.

    We seem to ignore this principle. Over and over again, we fume and demand that companies and individuals be more responsible and respectful. Yet hardly anyone talks about implementing rules that would actually limit the damage.

    A huge number of people believe that if society were just free of constraints, it'd organize itself into an efficient, elegant system and solve all our problems. That's wishful thinking. Greedy people will take advantage of inside connections, of special knowledge, and of outright dishonesty to screw over everyone else. And as much as we'd like to believe that the screwed will respond by researching their own information and leveling the playing field, doesn't actually happen, and won't.

    First of all, even if everyone were equally capable, the screwing party has more time to research a particular type of transaction than the screwed party, so the asymmetry is really built-in. Second, not everyone is equally capable. As Larry Summers famously wrote, "There are idiots. Look around." Sometimes people can't help being idiots. Does that mean they deserve to be exploited? How far does that extend? Do people deserve to be exploited because they haven't studied browser security, or because they're not privy to office gossip, or because they don't have the social skills to network their way out of sticky situations?

    We're going to keep seeing "X screwed over by powerful greedy person Y" stories until we use political channels to create new regulations that makes it in the best interests of the greedy to play nice with society. We can talk about the form these regulations should take. (IMHO, I think it's pretty clear we need far stronger privacy laws in the US.) What won't work is complaining that corporations are greedy. What won't work is trying to make laws while under the delusion that everyone is a rational actor with full access to relevant information. What might work is a determined effort to restore a sense of fair play and balance to our laws and institutions.

    --

    tl;dr: greed is a fact of life, and crying about it won't do any good. We need effective and strong regulation to prevent the greed that invariably appears from hurting the rest of us.

    • by khallow (566160)

      We're going to keep seeing "X screwed over by powerful greedy person Y" stories until we use political channels to create new regulations that makes it in the best interests of the greedy to play nice with society. We can talk about the form these regulations should take. (IMHO, I think it's pretty clear we need far stronger privacy laws in the US.) What won't work is complaining that corporations are greedy. What won't work is trying to make laws while under the delusion that everyone is a rational actor with full access to relevant information. What might work is a determined effort to restore a sense of fair play and balance to our laws and institutions.

      It's already happened. We've had such rules in place for many decades. You started out so well, then it appears to me that you fell into the mental trap you were warning us about. You can't regulate away greed. You can't make a market "fair" when some people know a lot more and are smarter than others. Idiots don't deserve to be exploited. But idiots who go out of their way to lose their money? Yes, they deserve to be exploited.

      My view is that the real world is chock full of danger. Greedy, ruthless peop

    • so... if we could just find some un-greedy (thus by your definition, necessarily not-human) to make and enforce all the rules... then we would all be fine, right?

    • by gutnor (872759)
      Unfortunatly, I guess that's what capitalism and free market is about.
      The market is the playground where everybody can be as ruthless as it wants using abstract construct like companies. The theory is that, with the proper legislation and government safeguards the market should work in the best interest of the society in general.
      The reality is that the power acquired in the playground gives you direct power over government and legislation, defeating the purpose.
    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      Outstanding post.

      I love that you raised the relevant issues and provided solid rational support, then invited readers to think about the matter, rather than prescribing some simplistic panacea. These are complicated issues that we need to start by thinking deeply about. The first issue is that we do not yet broadly accept and understand the problem itself. While I may think I have some of the answers, the first critical step is to get people seriously considering and discussing the difference between labora

  • Mafia Wars is FREE (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @07:22AM (#30071182)

    Mafia Wars is free. You never have to install anything, spend any money, or visit any other sites. If you want some of the special tokens, you can do those things... But the tokens will only get you things that you could get anyway if you simply had some patience.

    All of this is completely in the users' hands. The sponsors page even says things like 'don't sign up for this if you don't really want information on the product' and things like that. If you don't really -want- the Zwinkie toolbar, you shouldn't install it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Exactly. However, people like you and me are not the ones who are targetted. It's kids who play it and don't have (yet) the self-restraint and knowledge to avoid those scams. Of course, it's the parents who will have to fit the bill.
      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        Yeah, and the parents who let their kids have admin accounts before they know how to avoid them. My 18yo just got admin rights on her laptop we got her for graduation. But even then I also created a normal account for her and taught her to use the normal account as her primary account and only use the admin account to install stuff. My middle daughter has tried (not on purpose, of course) multiple times to install virus crap but couldn't because she wasn't an admin -- after I've had to help several frien

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nedlohs (1335013)

          Wow, and I had "admin" rights on a computer before I was 10.

          You have the exact opposite remembering of "back in the day" than I do.

          I remember being allowed to walk the street at nights with friends, now I see parents driving their kids everywhere because of the evil pedophiles.

          I remember going camping for a week with three friends when we were 13 - packing our own stuff (food, etc), catching the train for four hours, walking an hour or so to the camp site, and staying there for a week. No cell phones and wi

          • I remember going camping for a week with three friends when we were 13 - packing our own stuff (food, etc), catching the train for four hours, walking an hour or so to the camp site, and staying there for a week. No cell phones and with no way to be contacted at all. I suspect the parents would be thrown in jail today...

            Oh thank god, I was starting to think that I was the only one who did stuff like this as a child. So I'm not the only opponent of super-micro-management parenting...

          • by wrecked (681366)

            I remember being allowed to walk the street at nights with friends, now I see parents driving their kids everywhere because of the evil pedophiles.

            I remember going camping for a week with three friends when we were 13 - packing our own stuff (food, etc), catching the train for four hours, walking an hour or so to the camp site, and staying there for a week. No cell phones and with no way to be contacted at all. I suspect the parents would be thrown in jail today...

            I had to reply. I went camping with 6 other boys when I was 12; we lived in a Winnebago for a week in a trailer park. We also roamed around and played at other kid's houses after dark in our neighbourhood, without constant parental surveillance. You're right: I'm afraid about letting my 10 year old daughter do the same things, not because she'll get into trouble, but because other adults will report me to child services.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      Mafia Wars is free. You never have to install anything, spend any money, or visit any other sites.

      Execpt that the USP of these games is that they are competetive.

      If I take advantage of one of these offers, does it post a note to my Friends (tm) saying:

      itsdapead is movin' on up the greasy pole, and has reached the rank of "Backstabbing Yuppie Oik" - rather than beating you the hard-but-honest way he's whipped out the Gold Card and bought a wad of Dollars.
      To get a bonus from itsdapead, wait until hell freezes over.
      Click here to remove itsdapead from your friends list.

      These games are not just "fre

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      All you have to do is give it access to all the information you have on Facebook, and all the information of your friends on Facebook.

      Yes, that's definitely free. Free as in money, perhaps.

  • Not Surprising (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zaffir (546764)

    Considering Zynga shamelessly rips off the games of others (go look at FarmTown, released ~6 months before FarmVille), that he'd be ok with scamming people is not shocking.

  • Would love to see this prick "sleep with the fishes".
  • I am sure, supporters of this fine example of business will also defend this [healthnews6.com] scam.

    It's a true masterpiece -- from dynamically generated "comments", to a disclaimer that everything on the page is a lie disguised as a "Terms and Conditions" fine print.

  • The root of all this is that it's still unclear just *how* to earn money from the service(s) Facebook provides, both for Facebook itself and for app developers. Apparently, showing ads down people's throats in one way (web) or the other (shady toolbar apps) is currently the only way.
  • Now that he has admitted this -- is there a case for a massive class lawsuit from people who have had this and wasted a lot of time as a result? The point would be to bankrupt him and, hopefully, make such other scam artists think twice before trying something similar.

    What makes this different is the intention of this, as opposed to some bug.

  • The games are free, at least on the surface, but facebook games also factor in elapsed time... so they are only free, if you consider your time to be free.

    They are designed to take years to play, each day you log in and click a button here or there, and then leave it. By providing pay-for-stuff-now content, games like those provided by Zynga are allowing users to skip the need to wait for months in order to have features in the game immediately. Essentially it allows players to 'go munchkin' (power up even

  • Seriously, it's called Mafia Wars. The dev team was just getting into character.

  • They do equally shady stuff for "favor points" on Mobsters which I play. No big deal though - I keep a tiny virtual machine on my system that I boot up and RDP into if I ever need to install stuff for points. It's confined to the VM and can do no harm there.

  • Facebook Purity FTW (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @10:50AM (#30073460) Homepage

    If you are using Firefox, Safari, Opera or Chrome, get Greasemonkey and install the Facebook Purity script (http://steeev.freehostia.com/wp/2009/03/19/facebook_purity_cleans_up_the_facebook_homepage/).

    It blocks Mafia Wars, Farmville, quizzes and more. Basically you just see stuff your friends actually write.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#30075938) Homepage

    So most of these scam networks block Northern California, to prevent Facebook HQ from seeing them? So that's why I don't see them. I'm a few miles from Facebook HQ. I've completely missed this phenomenon.

    I'd applied SiteTruth [sitetruth.com] to Google ads, trying to warn users about the "bottom feeders" [sitetruth.com] with no identifiable legitimate business behind the ad. Myspace is mostly Google ads, so that's covered. Google ads in general are about 35% "bottom feeders" (we track this), but on Myspace, the percentage is much higher. From the article, Facebook has a similar problem, but it's mostly in the form of Facebook-specific ads, games, etc. We're not catching those.

    Maybe it's time to do that.

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