Do you trust the BBC in the UK? I bet you do. It's one of the most trusted brands in media. So if someone has pinned an image from the BBC site, you would feel that it was safe to click on that image to go to the page where it was originally published. Well, not anymore. Spammers have made clicking on Pinterest images into a lottery, you never know where you will end up.
Spam is now everywhere on Pinterest. Just search for images from a random European large city and they show up in droves. Stockholm, check. Copenhagen, check. London, check. Some of these images seem legit, but most of them are there just to trick you into visiting a shop on Amazon, a site that sells weight loss pills or offers fake gift cards.
Here's how it works.
Spammers pin an image to Pinterest, then edit the link and add a link to the site they want users to visit. They use a URL shortener such as bit.ly or goo.gl to hide the real address. Now there is no way to know before you click where the link will take you.
The BBC redirect scam
Now back to the issue with BBC. Some spammers have found that the BBC has a redirect link to external sites that can be misused. The BBC scam works like this. Instead of using a URL shortener, they type the address of the landing page after this BBC redirect URL, example:
This way, Pinterest displays "bbc.co.uk" as the source of the image. Credible, right?
You can type any URL after that BBC link, for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/redirect.shtml?http://www.cnn.com This link will send you to a BBC page which automatically redirects you to the site at the end of the URL.
Here is a live (at least for now) example of the BBC scam, on an image I found by searching for Copenhagen on Pinterest:
Here is another example: http://pinterest.com/pin/167055467397980305/
Part of the reason we talk so much about the possibilities with Pinterest is that the site alledgedly drives a lot of traffic to retailers and other sites. If we no longer dare to click on the images that others have pinned it hurts the very core of the site. A social network that doesn't drive any traffic to other sites is far less attractive than one that does.
Clearly Pinterest needs to shape up its fight against spam before the situation gets out of hand. And BBC need to fix that redirect link so that more spammers don't use it.