Facebook Ad Annoyances

on Sunday, March 20, 2011
Play Plants vs. Zombies online FREE! Free cool flash games here, comes with free toolbar! Come play [insert blatantly stolen popular retro game here] at [phishing/adware/data mining website].com!

This  is the first time I've ever written about something other than a specific flash game, but I feel this needs to be addressed. These taglines and many more seem to plague the sidebar of facebook. The reason why they are there is simple, people generally don't like paying for things they could possibly get for free, and the average facebook user doesn't know java from flash, let alone the difference between a website that offers a genuine service, and one that wishes to rip them off.

I don't mean to imply that every website that runs an advertisement on facebook is out to rob you blind and rape your kids, its mostly just the rob you blind part. The people who pay for the ads on facebook do so for one reason, it makes them more money than it costs them. It's not a moral issue for them, whether they are selling a legitimate mmorpg for tweens done by a team of seven, or one guy who set up a phishing website who will turn a profit in selling stolen information to interested parties. Facebook, similarly, has only the goal of making money, and doesn't make an effort to remove ads that are exploitative of users. The best facebook does is give you the option of personally choosing to not see specific ads by giving you the option to close the ad and report to facebook why you didn't want to see their ad.

In the wild wild west that is the internet, who is left to protect the hapless populace from those who wish to prey upon them? Well, mostly themselves. The snake oil salesmen will do everything in their power to extract the money out of you, whether by getting you to buy something directly, or selling your personal info. Facebook in this case serves as sort of the person who runs the town, but doesn't give a damn about what happens to it's citizens so long as it ends up paid.

So, who ultimately ends up suffering for this? First and foremost, the user does. Computer viruses, spam emails, and huge wastes of time are honestly the least of your worries if you are haphazardly clicking ads without knowing what the angle of the advertiser is. On the extreme end you could end up dealing with being tricked into buying something that doesn't exist, having credit card data stolen, or even ending up a victim of identity theft. Naturally all of these can be avoided with a tiny bit of net savvy, but that isn't exactly abundant in the facebook userbase. What people don't realize is that the targets of the ads aren't the only ones who get hurt. Any asset that is illegally used in setting up these scams potentially hurts the reputation of the owner of that asset. Never heard of Plants vs. Zombies and try to play it via an ad, only to be taken to a website that asks for your credit card info? Certainly doesn't make you want to try out plants vs. zombies in the future. Click an ad advertising a free tetris game only to be taken to a website that wants you install a malicious toolbar? Well, you certainly learned your lesson about trying to play games on the internet.

So, what can be done if facebook won't openly fix the problem and the people spending money on ads are obviously out to exploit the gullible? The most important thing you can do is get rid of the gullible people. Not with guns, knives, and mortar launchers of course, but with knowledge. Just about everybody who reads this knows someone who is by all means net illiterate, but uses facebook.  Simply and succinctly as you can, explain to them why they shouldn't trust certain ads, and what to look for to find a fake. If you wish to help the devs whose assets are being abused however, the route is slightly more involved. The first thing you want to do is screencap the ad, and save the image to send later. Then you want to go to the developer/publisher's website, and find the contact us button. Contact them via email, and tell them that the website in question is scamming people using their assets(make sure to attach the photo). After that, the work is on the shoulders of the devs to notify facebook of the DMCA breach and get the ad removed. You'll probably get a nice thank you in return, and you can feel good that you personally helped rid facebook of a malicious fraud.

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