Friday, June 02, 2017

The Dangerous Spread of Fake Ads

This article is a little outdated in light of Google’s ad blocking service and Facebook’s pressure from its shareholders to police fake news. However I wanted to share a very personal experience with the issues outlined in this article, especially as it relates to Dr. Oz’s quest to police unscrupulous advertisers selling everything from wrinkle cream to supplements.

Firstly, it summaries the ecosystem by explaining the relationship between customers, affiliates, networks, and merchants (advertisers).  Networks connect publishers and advertisers by taking commission or using licensed technology to manage tracking. There’s different levels of accountability for bad actors when a network is actively engaged vs. when they license technology to someone else.  Dr. Oz gives a personal example of fake ads hurting his brand and the subsequent failure to convince lawmakers to take action against the merchants.

After Dr. Oz appeared on Oprah to discuss acai as an antioxidant, merchants started using his name and likeness to promote their own acai berry supplements. Dr. Oz filed a civil suit against the merchants, but the court ruled in their favor claiming that affluent victims can fight this exploitation on their own. This raises the issue of less-affluent individuals; how is the average consumer protected against these scams? Dr. Oz reported personal damage to his brand as many people still believe he sells ineffective or dangerous supplement online.

I’ve personally been the victim of fake ads or “clickbait” (see the screenshot below), which puts my business at risk for new consumers who might believe we’re a fraudulent company selling a scam in one ad and our real product in another. In an episode of Dr. Oz, Barbara Corcoran joins him in confronting the advertiser behind the fake news claiming that my business partner and I scored a “$12 million deal, and left our peers in stunned silence” with her, which links to an ad selling wrinkle cream. This demonstrated how difficult it can be to track the ad’s source, and often times how difficult it is to police them even once their identity is discovered.

We can only hope to avoid creating more demand for fake news, as these links are designed to elicit strong emotion and create more engagement. I’m looking forward to the day when large internet companies have widely accepted standards for helping consumers distinguish between fake news/scam ads and reality. Also, in an age where the web moves faster than our legal system, I hope legislation will evolve to give corporate entities more accountability over the content they promote.

No comments: