The model is extremely effective: take a quiz and enter your phone number to find out the results. The only problem is that once you enter your phone number you’ll be charged $20 a week. The quiz is not actually hosted on Facebook though. Instead, users will view the advertisements on applications like the “How Well Do You Know Me?” application. The developers of the application (and the collaborating ad network) have cleverly embedded advertisements that fit well with the application.
There is a legitimate purpose of the “How Well Do You Know Me? ” application but the ads aren’t as legitimate. Some of the ad networks have come under fire recently for serving up the misleading advertisements. As I wrote back in March, one ad network was forced to payout $500,000 in a settlement. Essentially that settlement has simply become part of the cost of doing business though.
Typically this news wouldn’t have frustrated me because it is a widely known dirty practice among some of the top advertisers. The “How Well Do You Know Me?” application has over 24 million monthly active users though so I know that thousands of individuals have been impacted by these scams. One of those happened to be my mother who called me up the other day to tell me that she had a $25 fee on her phone that was a result on clicking on one of the application advertisements.
Initially I experienced multiple emotions including guilt (as though I had contributed to the problem) and a bit of frustration that my mother had been duped into one of the scams. At a certain point these companies need to draw a line and say that some advertisements are simply unethical. I’m reaching out to some of these ad networks directly to see if they let developers opt-out of such advertisements.
At the end of the day, who ends up being responsible for those advertisements? The developers? The ad networks? While these scam ads are paying out higher CPMs right now, is this the best way to build a sustainable business? I personally disagree with this business practice but even I have received money from some of these ad networks at one point or another which makes me feel extremely guilty. Should Facebook be responsible for more effectively monitoring these ad networks?
In the example ad that I’ve included below, users are redirected to a site that looks like Facebook but isn’t. While you can say that the users were ignorant, it’s simply human to make mistakes. If enough people click on the ad, a small percentage of people will slip up and enter their number. Should the social advertising industry develop best practices for what ads are acceptable? The IAB has published their own best practices for social advertisements but it doesn’t include what ads are displayed.
Facebook sent us the following statement: “We’ve received some reports of deceptive content in ads placed within apps by developers. These ads are not from Facebook but we are concerned about any potential threat to our users’ experience. We have already had the ads removed from a number of apps. We are continuing to investigate to make sure these ads stay off Facebook and may take further action against developers who host the ads.”