The hunt for payday loan advertisers isn’t over. After Google’s May 2016 announcement that they were going to ban payday loan ads that met certain criteria, Facebook has decided to do the same.
Facebook has announced that it is going to trace and punish advertisers who bypass its review policies, particularly those advertisers who encourage Facebook users to click on ”phony” links. Facebook intends to use AI and human review processes to get rid of ads which create ”disruptive or negative experiences” for its users. The social media giant has already banned thousands of advertisers guilty of the practice popularly referred to as ”cloaking”.
This financially-motivated marketing technique has seen many bad actors disguise the actual destination of their ads or post links as well as the real URL content taking users to unrelated pages. These actors then generate income from views or clicks with affiliate deals. What’s more is; these unrelated pages host shocking content or scams.
Facebook cloaking is easy. A simple search on Google reveals countless tutorials on how to do it. Cloakers have been getting away with this unethical practice by showing Facebook’s approval team one ad and another totally different ad to the audience that clicks on the ad. Facebook’s new AI and human review processes will help it get rid of this malpractice that usually leaves its users shortchanged in most cases.
According to a blog post co-written by Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product director alongside software engineer, Bobbie Chang, ”we can now observe differences in the kind of content offered to people using apps compared to Facebook’s internal systems. In the recent past, these new efforts have allowed us to take down thousands of offenders misleading Facebook users.”
Facebook has also been on the record threatening to remove all Facebook pages found to be engaging in cloaking. The company has also initiated collaborative efforts with other companies in the industry to discover new and more effective ways of finding and punishing bad actors. These efforts come in the midst of a spam content and fake news crackdown within its walls.
There are also ongoing efforts to make the global digital ecosystem more transparent. Many global tech leaders are also focusing on improving digital experiences for their users. The largest marketing spenders in the world such as P&G and Unilever have also been calling for tech giants to tackle ad fraud.
What motivates cloaking?
There is a clear link between cloaking and making money from clicks as well as page views originating from Facebook ads. Facebook is at the forefront of this problem given the social media site has over 2 billion active users every month which accounts for 42% of the total monthly social media visits globally.
Google had to deal with a similar problem being the biggest search engine in the world. Google’s efforts were, however, more targeted, i.e., the search engine giant was focused on getting rid of payday loan ads which featured high-interest rates (36%+ APR) as well as tight repayment periods (i.e., 60 days from date of issue).
Starting 13th June 2016, Google banned all payday loan ads meeting these criteria. This was a follow-up for a similar ban that saw Google disable approximately 780 million ads back in 2015 for reasons such as counterfeiting, phishing, and obscenity. Google has been hunting for ”questionable” service/product ads for a while now. After getting rid of porn ads, the search engine giant turned its attention to payday loan ads and other high-interest financial product/service ads.
Google has been on a mission to protect its users from harmful or deceptive ads according to David Graff, Director of Global Product Policy at Google. The search engine has already terminated 1,300 advertiser accounts guilty of cloaking. Like Facebook, the search engine’s actions were motivated by external pressure (from consumer privacy and protection groups).
In 2016, Google banned 1.7 billion ”bad ads” for a number of offenses. This included 68 million ads featuring unapproved pharmaceuticals, 80 million ads deemed to be misleading or shocking to users as well as 5 million payday loan ads.
Facebook stopped showing payday loan ads back in 2015. Advertisers have however become smarter using tactics like cloaking which have forced the social media giant back to the drawing board. Any payday loan advertisers among other deceptive advertisers on Facebook today have their days numbered. The new AI and human review process are effective enough to deal with cloaking once and for all.