Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Facebook Not Doing Enough to Stop Fake Clicks on Ads

The Facebook Inc. application is displayed for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Facebook is struggling to respond to growing demands from Washington to explain how the personal data of millions of its users could be exploited by a consulting firm that helped Donald Trump win the presidency.

Facebook Inc. can block bots from viewing and clicking on ads but the social-media company isn’t doing enough to stop it, web analytics firm Method Media Intelligence found.

Advertising fraud has plagued companies that pay online platforms including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing for views, clicks, likes and app installations. Robot-controlled browsers, or bots, have grown more sophisticated in imitating human activity such as clicking ads, opening web pages, downloading apps and filling out forms. That’s causing advertisers to pay more for fake activity, MMI said Monday in a report.

Facebook charges advertisers for ad views and clicks. An investigation by MMI revealed that Facebook makes it easy for bots to log in, view pages and click ads. The report alleges the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant has the technology to block fraudulent activity but only deploys it at the account registration stage, not for logins, viewing content or engaging with ads.

“These advertising companies are getting paid by views and clicks. They stand to benefit from those, whether they are humans or not,” said Sachin Dhar, director of research and strategy at MMI. “It’s a lot easier to do this than people think and it’s not illegal.”

MMI simulated an automated browser logging in to the Facebook platform and the software was able to interact with ads visible on the page. By detecting and blocking bots from registering new accounts on its platform, Facebook has shown it can successfully implement bot-blocking techniques, MMI said.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google stops short of gathering valuable information on potential bot traffic, MMI also said. “What Google is doing is not even trying to measure whether a browser or device being used to click an ad is a bot or not,” Dhar said. “They are not collecting any of the parameters that are useful in making that judgment.”

Advertisers depend on technology companies to accurately report who saw their ads and whether they were effective. Dhar said based on MMI’s clients, ad spending on views that are actually from bots can often account for 20% of an advertiser’s budget.

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