Freescale is running a contest right now to pick their Smart Mobile Device Pundits for 2012. (Go vote for me!) I was bored that first evening, so I sat back and devoted some time to figuring out how to cheat.
This is a straightforward popularity contest. You visit the Freescale website and click a button. The 5 contestants who get the most clicks win the contest. That simplicity is what leaves the contest open to hacking.
I came up with a number of techniques, but most would have relatively easy to prevent. For example, you can vote from multiple browsers on multiple devices, but that could be dealt with by checking IP addresses. And I'm sure Freescale is already doing that. There are also some more sophisticated methods of hacking the info sent to the servers, but that is beyond my skills to attempt, much less succeed.
But there is one trick that would likely succeed, if not for the fact that everyone is now going to look for it. You can buy votes, and you can actually get them relatively cheap.
Haave you ever heard of Amazon's Mechnical Turk? Amazon describes it as an experiment in artificial artificial intelligence, but what it's really is a job market for simple tasks. Let's say that you want to find the contact info for a set of 100 conference attendees. That could take hours if not days of your time, or you could sell the job via Amazon and get it done in faction of the time at a cost far below what you might expect.
In the example of the Freescale contest, someone could set out to buy votes. If they offered $.25 per vote, they could buy their way into the winner's circle for around $100. It might go little more expensive than that, but I doubt that it will take more than 800 votes to make the list, and that's only $200.
I'm probably upsetting some people by talking about cheating, but I would hope that you know that I wouldn't talk about it if I were going to try it. That would defeat the purpose. No, I'm sharing this trick so everyone is watching, which means no one can get away with it. (And that goes for other contests, too.)
So far as I know, no one has tried to rig the Freescale contest, but I wanted to alert everyone to the possibility anyway. It is such cool idea that someone is bound to try it eventually, and it is better to be prepared.