Thursday, August 1, 2019

Motherboard experimented with creating a phone farm to earn money "through ad fraud"

For Motherboard's phone farm, we bought used devices off eBay: four TracFone ZTE Android phones for $24.99 each. The boxes had been opened, but the phones were in working order. It's sometimes possible to get phones cheaper, at around $10 each, and farmers trade tips on what sort of phones will be most cost-effective.


The apps that are the most profitable are constantly changing, as some developers crack down on people using lots of devices at once, or make tweaks to the app that make it harder for farmers to passively make money by requiring user intervention to keep the app going.

Typically, a phone farmer will download an app and be prompted to make an account with the service. The user interface of each app varies, but usually phone farmers can get straight into watching adverts, sometimes by selecting from a menu of different genres or programs. Phone farmers jump between different apps as some become better for generating money than others, though the apps mostly work more or less the same.


For most of the week-long test period, Motherboard's phones ran the app Perk TV, whose website reads, "The more videos you watch the more Perk Points you earn. Exchange the points you earn for gift cards, prizes, sweepstakes, and more—absolutely free!" For watching videos—in our tests, mostly Netflix trailers—Perk TV rewards points. 1,000 points are worth $1. (Until recently you could exchange those points onto a Perk credit card; Perk discontinued the card last week).

In all, we made 50 cents worth of Perk points.


Mr. E Media gave Motherboard access to a usually closed-off section of his phone farming-focused Discord server. Inside those invite-only chat rooms, members discussed grey market ways to automate their devices to generate money with no interaction at all, which in many cases violate the app's terms of use. Some use an app called FRep, or Finger Replayer, to loop a virtual finger's movement across the phone's screen and trick the app.
*Previously: "he's built a network of gamers who help him farm the best gear to arm his superpowered characters"