Fake Podcast Charts with Jack Rhysider

Podcast listeners usually find out about a new podcast in one of two ways: either a friend recommends that podcast or the Apple podcast charts rank that new podcast highly.

The Apple podcast charts are created using an algorithm that is not public. Many people believe that the chart ranking of a podcast is based on the number of podcast subscribers, the number of podcast downloads, and the reviews that are written about the podcasts on iTunes.

Jack Rhysider is the host of Darknet Diaries, a podcast about the dark and strange elements of the Internet. Darknet Diaries is told in a high quality, narrative audio format. Jack is a security engineer with a deep understanding of technology, and has been blogging for a long time.

As Jack has built a following with his podcast, he has spent more time looking at the iTunes podcast charts. He has seen the rank of Darknet Diaries increase–but he has seen the rank of other podcasts increase much faster. Some of these podcasts have low quality content. The audio quality is poor, the host is unprepared–these are the kinds of podcasts you would listen to once, and never subscribe to.

And yet, numerous podcasts with low quality were somehow able to game the rankings and make it to the top of the charts.

In episode 27 of Darknet Diaries, Jack investigated the phenomenon of fraudulent podcast chart manipulation. It was one of my favorite podcast episodes ever (and this is coming from someone who has listened to a lot of podcasts). The investigation went to several unexpected places, but Jack did solve the riddle of how low quality podcasts climb the iTunes charts.

Jack joins the show to talk about fraudulent–and the broader implications of the fake Internet. Today’s episode is a simple example of how easily Internet platforms can be gamed–for a deeper dive into the fake Internet, listen to our past episodes on advertising fraud, or tomorrow’s episode with ad fraud investigative journalist Craig Silverman, which I am very excited about.


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