Last week Vkontakte quietly removed it's open registration policy - you can now create an account only through an invitation. It was announced on the company blog that only users that have tied their accounts to their mobile phones would be able to send invites to new users. Supposedly the new invite system makes the registration simpler and safer. Simpler because when inviting someone you can already indicate their name, birthday and school, making it easier for non-tech-savvy users to create an account. Safer because it reduces the number of fake accounts and bots entering the system. So is Vkontakte aiming for exclusivity all of a sudden or is there something more to it?
The speculation on the web is that the move is connected to the growing number of bots and hackers rather than a sudden concern for simplicity.Vkontakte has been suffering quite a lot from spam and hackers breaking into people's accounts - reports about massive numbers of Vkontakte accounts being sold online were not uncommon. Limiting the registration seems like one of the company's strategies to tackle that problem once and for all. However, like one blogger pointed out, the move can also mean that hackers would persevere and more people would be under attack. Limiting access to the website means the entry can be circumvented but is not blocked completely, especially since there is money to be made by hacking into people's accounts.
Vkontakte officially has around 111M registered accounts but only about 23M visit the site daily. One can suspect quite a few of those inactive accounts are empty or fake. Vkontakte has a history of tackling that problem by pushing their users to reveal their true identity. First, they would block or indicate as suspicious for other users accounts that have unusual names (i.e. those that used nicknames rather a full name and a surname).
Now they are really pushing their users to tie their accounts to their mobile phones. Again, the main reasoning given for that is safety: if you loose your account credentials or it gets blocked you can access it again through a text message sent by Vkontakte. How and why your account might be blocked is unclear because even when an account is hacked, the user can still access it. Thus, there is a slight suspicion here that the blocking might be the result of not tying your mobile phone number to your account. The added benefit is that once a phone is tied to an account, it is easier for users to spend some money on the website's games or gifts.
Vkontakte emphasizes that the registration is still free of charge. Moreover, according to TechRockets, the company's founder and CEO, Pavel Durov, stated that the site would stop using ads from tobacco and alcohol producers. 'I am not allured by advertising budgets which destroy people’s minds and undermine the health of the nation', read the message.
Image from kontakta.ucoz.ru