Behind the Tube: Exploitative Monetization of Content on YouTube


Andrew Chu, University of Chicago; Arjun Arunasalam, Muslum Ozgur Ozmen, and Z. Berkay Celik, Purdue University


The YouTube video sharing platform is a prominent online presence that delivers various genres of content to society today. As the viewership and userbase of the platform grow, both individual users and larger companies have recognized the potential for monetizing this content. While content monetization is a native capability of the YouTube service, a number of requirements are enforced on the platform to prevent its abuse. Yet, methods to circumvent these requirements exist; many of which are potentially harmful to viewers and other users. In this paper, we present the first comprehensive study on exploitative monetization of content on YouTube. To do this, we first create two datasets; one using thousands of user posts from eleven forums whose users discuss monetization on YouTube, and one using listing data from five active sites that facilitate the purchase and sale of YouTube accounts. We then perform both manual and automated analysis to develop a view of illicit monetization exploits used on YouTube by both individual users and larger channel collectives. We discover six distinct exploits used to execute illicit content monetization on YouTube; four used by individual users, and two used by channel collectives. Further, we identify real-world evidence of each exploit on YouTube message board communities and provide insight into how each is executed. Through this, we present a comprehensive view of illicit monetization exploits on the YouTube platform that can motivate future investigation into mitigating these harmful endeavors.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {277236,
author = {Andrew Chu and Arjun Arunasalam and Muslum Ozgur Ozmen and Z. Berkay Celik},
title = {Behind the Tube: Exploitative Monetization of Content on {YouTube}},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {2171--2188},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

Presentation Video