If you’re even a casual Facebook user, you’re likely familiar with seeing scam ads. These clickbait-ridden links are all over the platform, making tens of millions of dollars per year by targeting older and less-savvy users. And according to a recent expose from Buzzfeed News, one of the largest purveyors of these ads has been shut down due to the publication’s reporting.
Ads Inc., a San Diego-based startup, was originally founded as an e-commerce company. However, its business was really built on fraudulent links and a kind of scam called a “subscription trap.” These ads are designed to look like legitimate news stories that encourage victims to sign up for a garbage product or service with a reoccurring payment.
“The market power of Facebook enables this scam because its scale prevents it from effectively monitoring it,” David Carroll, associate professor of media design at Parsons School of Design, told Buzzfeed News. He also called it “one of the more obvious examples of consumer harm.”
For its part, Facebook responded immediately to the story by issuing a cease-and-desist to Ads Inc., effectively shuttering its operations.
“We are taking enforcement actions against Ads Inc. as part of our ongoing investigation and evaluating legal options. We have no tolerance for bad actors that perpetuate scams and create poor experiences for people on Facebook,” said Rob Leathern, a director of product management for the company.
While it’s a good thing that this scam got shut down, it’s also worth examining how it was able to thrive on Facebook’s platform for so long without being discovered. It shouldn’t take a news story to get Facebook to act on these issues.
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