To see the ongoing conversation about aggressive online advertising is both reassuring as well as disconcerting. The reason that it’s disconcerting is that Mike Arrington has just begun to breach a much greater issue by randomly attacking one (or a couple) companies in this space. If this attack was done just for page views then writing about the issues are almost as bad as the people performing the act.
At the end, there should be a goal which in my opinion should be to eliminate unethical practices which damage the entire industry. To arbitrarily bring up an issue which AllFacebook has been highlighting for 6 months does nothing but drive controversy and force some VC funded companies to force their skeletons back into the closet.
It’s A Widespread Issue
The issue isn’t just with the offers space though. It’s a much greater investment by well known spam/affiliate advertisers who wish to take advantage of this space. With struggling developers who believe they are building legitimate businesses, slapping on some questionable ads are a great way to keep funding the business. When questionable ads are the difference between getting another job or continuing to program, many developers opt for the latter.
The issue is with people like Sanford Wallace who earlier this week was asked to pay $711 million in damages to Facebook for aggressive spam. While he probably won’t pay, Sanford Wallace is only one of many spammers in a giant ecosystem which is essentially a spectrum of grey to dark ethical practices. For the large publishers, I’d guess that they see themselves in the “grey” and have justified their actions just as common drug addicts do.
Other companies which have accepted funding from a range of larger and smaller investors are forced to generate revenue. This pressure leads them to make aggressive decisions which includes running some of the questionable ads. This isn’t a new issue however. Scams have been running on the internet since the beginning. Scams practically funded the internet.
Google has had a large number of scams run on their platform in the past and they even do today. While we can’t say the number of questionable ads run on Google today, I saw one of the following ads run on a YouTube video earlier today:
That ad would be a violation of Facebook’s terms as it includes actual Facebook icons. It also makes a false assertion that “96.7% get this question wrong”. So why did it get approved by Google? As most affiliate marketers know, getting an ad approved really depends on the person looking at the ad. After enough submissions, you’re bound to get it through Google’s system, unless of course you have a flagrant violation.
Mike Arrington suddenly decided to bring up the spam issue (which is a massive issue) with Offerpal, yet fails to go after the broader issue at hand makes me question the intention. I told Mike via email over the weekend that I thought his intentions were noble and that few people (journalists) were willing to take on unethical business people.
The mainstream media doesn’t even know what’s going on most of the time anyways. They see a headline that virtual goods in the U.S. will generate $1 billion this year and that’s all they need to know. Yes, there’s definitely a grey area but if you are really going to uncover the scams which are taking place, you need to know who all the players are and who’s really at fault.
While Mark Pincus states that Tatto media, “had already been taken down and permanently banned”, the company is still thriving and according to one source is still part of the chain of players in the Facebook advertising ecosystem. They may not be operating as a Facebook advertising platform but they surely can provide creative or run servers for people.
With all this money floating around, everybody just wants to get a piece of the pie. Pointing fingers alone doesn’t really accomplish much.
The Issue Is Not Over
The point is this: two companies have already been shut down and Facebook is going after the ad networks more aggressively, but only the surface has been breached. There are many larger players at hand. The internet has always been filled with spam and junk in general. Perhaps our duty is to call out those industry participants that we see getting involved in sketchy business practices.
Alternatively our job may be to investigate the issue further, beyond our friends who we also hold to high standards. In a space which is unregulated, it takes a much larger group to take action. It’s the job of bloggers and journalists to highlight the issues however it’s the duty of an industry to determine whether or not it’s big enough of a problem that there should be some form of organization which polices these issues.
I don’t know what the best route is, and I’d be open to your opinions, although I’m sure those generating revenue from questionable won’t be commenting on this post. One thing I do know however is that to just point fingers at a few people is not really the best way to accomplish anything. It may drive some minor changes, however these issues are widespread and go far beyond a few people.
Perhaps it’s the job of companies like Facebook to have a large enforcement team (as they are currently doing). If you want to really take the issue to the core, you could ask people if they are fervent supporters of Laissez Faire economics or if they believe in some form of regulation. What do you think?