Facebook’s Advertising Security Struggle

If users can’t trust the platform, then how valuable is the ad space?

As the Super Bowl approaches, the National Football League’s PR teams do significant, and useful, outreach to help make fans aware of the consequences of unlicensed merchandise. Oftentimes, purchases of these fake jerseys, hats, and other gear finance criminal enterprise.

You may think of counterfeit merchandise as something that’s sold on a card table by a sketchy guy downtown. You know, the guy who quickly folds up the card table and runs if the police walk up. However, these sketchy groups have taken their card tables online, and alarmingly, Facebook seems to be profiting off of this trade.

We’ve all noticed advertisements are more prevalent on Facebook’s news feed, and often the ads are for major brands we use everyday. Progressive Insurance. Verizon Wireless. During this football season, I’ve seen occasional ads hawking deeply discounted Seattle Seahawks jerseys, and after the Seahawks won the NFC title game this past Sunday, impressions for this ad began appearing very often in my feed:

20150121_Seahawks_Fake_Store_Facebook_Ad

Upon visiting this store’s website, you see a store that legitimately looks like the Seahawks team store. The masthead’s the same, the verbiage describing the products are the same, but when looking at the finer points of page design, only then can you see a difference, and it’s slight. The Seahawks’ “feathering” pattern goes all the way across on the real site.

20150121_Seahawks_Store_Scam_Comparison

Of course, this isn’t the first online scam, and is by no means the last. However, what concerns me about this is how users arrive at this fake site, a false store that’s just waiting for your credit card number. Facebook serves many, many, legitimate ads to users and paid ads on their platform are seen as valuable tools for legitimate brands big and small.

However, as a platform, Facebook appears to be doing little to protect its users from this malvertising. Worse yet, they appear to be profiting from it.

It isn’t difficult for Facebook to check the legitimacy of these links. Simple antivirus programs and IT providers reacted with numerous warnings when I tried to click on, and also manually type in, the URL for the site. When one considers the vast wealth of resources available to a company like Facebook, it is very troubling when you ask, “Why don’t they take an extra step to better protect their users, and legitimate advertising partners?”

While the NFL raises awareness for merchandise scams, it would behoove them to take their fight against fake merchandise online and take Facebook to task for exposing their fans to these scams.

For marketers of all products, it raises an important ethical question: What is the value of paying for an ad that appears on an untrustworthy platform? Would you want your company’s ad appearing next to entities pretending to be something they aren’t? JG Initial Mark_15x15

Joe Gura is a marketing communications strategist, and has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn or follow Joe on Twitter: @joegura

About joegura

I’m a technology marketer with a deep track record for success running B2B and B2C global campaigns and initiatives across large enterprises. With expertise that spans all facets of traditional marketing, I specialize in optimizing and connecting companies and customers via next-generation tactics such as digital, social, and content marketing.
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