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Facebook to Go After Fraudulent Businesses (That Also Advertise)

Facebook to Go After Fraudulent Businesses (That Also Advertise)

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Facebook is having a bit of an advertising issue, in that the social network is allegedly being blasted with ads from third-party merchants that are attempting to sell items of skeptical quality. And while one should always have a bit of “buyer beware” when buying from an online retailer, especially one that you’ve never heard of before, a number of Facebook users are complaining about being sucker in by these not-so-reputable retailers.

Based on these reports, Facebook officials claim that they’re going to be working on ways to ensure that Facebook users aren’t subject to ads from potentially scammy or unethical retailers. They haven’t exactly specified how the social network might be going about it, other than to note that they’ll be using new data points to help identify these merchants and, presumably, give them the boot before they sucker too many users.

“We’re looking at ways to incorporate new signals that will help us identify which of the over 50 million active businesses on our platflorm are delivering products and services that are overwhelmingly unsatisfactory to people,” said Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, vice president of ads and pages, in an email to Buzzfeed.

“…the challenge isn’t just with ads or posts on Facebook, but also the experiences people have with businesses off of Facebook. It’s a complex problem, but we are working on it and will do everything we can to make sure people trust and enjoy the content they see on Facebook.”

As Buzzfeed reported earlier this week, the scams tend to center on one major theme: getting a piece of clothing for much less than it should normally cost. The problem? The item you eventually get in the mail only looks tangentially like whatever it looked like in the merchant’s online photos, and you’re out whatever you paid for a piece of clothing that, clearly, isn’t what you wanted.

The big issue surrounding the scam is that these merchants selling these clothes all seem to be fairly legitimate. They’ll have a ton of likes on their pages, professional-quality pictures and graphics, and seemingly few (or no) complaints from previous purchasers. Their Facebook pages are a lot better-looking than their clothes, which might come discolored, incorrectly sized, or just plain wrong. And since the customer service representatives are all international, if they even exist, odds of you getting any kind of refund for your purchase are slim.

And while some of the advertising these merchants are pushing on Facebook theoretically violates the company’s terms for “deceptive, false or misleading content,” Facebook’s core issue is that—up until now, at least—it doesn’t really have a great way to police advertising if it’s typed up in such a way as to appear normal (or borderline-normal, at best). And once a user leaves Facebook to make a purchase at one of these allegedly scammy companies, that’s outside of Facebook’s policing. You might hate what you bought, but as long as the advertising looked legitimate, Facebook is unlikely to catch it with its internal checks.

Those who own the rights to photos that some of these companies steal and republish as their own content on Facebook can, of course, file a complaint with Facebook. The social network will diligently pursue these claims, but it’s also not the kind of thing that most online models or photographers likely want to spend all of their time attempting to proactively police.

“One of our most important goals with Facebook ads is to present experiences that are relevant and high-quality. We understand the gravity of this issue and we’re taking it very seriously,” Bosworth told Buzzfeed.