Facebook account: free. Friends? About 18 cents apiece
How much are 1,000 Facebook friends worth?
According to Leon Hill, $177.30.
That’s the price that Hill’s online marketing firm uSocial.net is selling Facebook friends for, through a new service that has already raised alarms within Facebook.
Hill’s reputation as a notorious peddler of online souls precedes him, having launched a similar service selling Twitter followers to clients earlier this year.
Another endeavor, in which he sought to “game” social bookmarking site Digg by letting advertisers buy votes to push certain stories to the top of the site, earned him a cease-and-desist letter from Digg’s attorneys, he says. (A Digg representative said the company could not comment).
Now, uSocial has set it sights on Facebook, which Hill believes will be the greatest opportunity yet.
“It’s going to be massive. There are about 20 times more people on Facebook” than on Twitter, said Hill in a telephone interview from his home-base in Brisbane, Australia on Wednesday.
The idea is to provide a company with a giant pool of Facebook friends, which Hill’s clients can then market to. Hill said that he befriends Facebook users on behalf of his corporate client, approaching users who are fans of Ferraris, for example, if a client of his wants an audience that’s interested in sports cars.
“With Facebook it’s always up to the person whether they want to be a friend or not. They can always remove them later,” said Hill.
Facebook doesn’t see it that way.
“We’re just beginning an investigation now, but it’s clear to us that potential customers of their service should be cautious,” Facebook said in a statement.
“The value of a person that is tricked, coerced or bribed into being a Facebook friend or fan is extremely limited and may actually work against whatever goals the customer is attempting to achieve,” the statement continued.
Facebook also warned that its terms of service prohibit people from using their profile for commercial gain and that users found violating the policy could have their accounts permanently disabled.
Hill says he’s gotten better at covering his tracks since his Twitter and Digg days. He no longer uses any automated software to find users, and he routinely changes his servers’ IP addresses.
So long as a client doesn’t admit that they’ve paid for friends, there’s no way for Facebook to find out, Hill contended.
According to Hill, he’s already signed up 30 clients in the first six hours that his Facebook service has been available. Demand is so strong that Hill believes he’ll easily double the $60,000 a month in sales that he claims his company currently generates.
“The one thing about this business, people either love what I do or hate what I do,” said Hill.