Facebook's 3rd Biggest Advertiser Accused Of Being Affiliate Toolbar Scam; Facebook Says It's Never Heard Of The Company

from the just-like-the-old-days... dept

There have been numerous reports lately concerning just how much money Facebook is making on ads. That's part of the reason it was able to get that otherworldly $50 billion valuation from some. However, some are noticing something fishy in the Facebook ad business. After seeing an AdAge article mention in passing that the third largest advertiser on Facebook is not a household namebrand, but rather Make-My-Baby.com. Google's spam-catcher-in-chief Matt Cutts did some digging and quickly noticed that the site appears to be a sketchy toolbar installer that tries to switch you to using Bing, and then it gets an affiliate cut of any search ads you click on going forward. Cutts also points out that the URL to tell you how to uninstall the toolbar leads to a 404 page not found -- and many folks have had difficulty uninstalling the toolbar.

Marshall Kirkpatrick, over at ReadWriteWeb, digs in deeper and wonders if anyone at Facebook or Microsoft is actually minding the store. Even if they didn't directly know this was happening, if this is really the third largest advertiser on Facebook, both of those companies had to know something was up, just based on the numbers. A company like Facebook is intimately aware of its third biggest advertiser, and if the company is really driving that much traffic to Bing, then Microsoft would surely know about it as well.

Of course, this is where the story gets more bizarre. While Microsoft's response to this story was to cut off the company, Facebook's response was to claim that the company isn't an advertiser at all, let alone the third largest advertiser on the site. So how is it that reports suggest the company is the third largest advertiser, when Facebook claims they're not an advertiser at all? The company does have a slight hedge, by saying that "any affiliates that try to push people there we would shut down." So it's possible that it was hidden through some sort of affiliate setup before Facebook caught it -- but no one seems to be revealing any of the details.

Either way, all of this sounds quite reminiscent of the old adware days, where all sorts of sketchy companies would trick people into installing software to scrape up affiliate revenue. We hadn't seen much of that lately, as many of the old players eventually got wiped out, but it's hardly a surprise that similar schemes would quickly jump up in a Facebook world, whether or not it was officially through Facebook's advertising functionality.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2011 @ 7:53pm

    Actually MySpace

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    aperson (profile), Jan 18th, 2011 @ 8:12pm

    facebook is a lot like aohell, all the old gags in a shiny new package, and millions of morons ready to click anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Marshall, Jan 18th, 2011 @ 8:38pm

    I've asked friends on Facebook if they have seen these ads and two so far say yes

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2011 @ 8:45pm

    These guys are taking their cover up tips from the government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 18th, 2011 @ 9:29pm


    I've asked friends on Facebook if they have seen these ads and two so far say yes

    Hmm. So either Facebook is lying... or...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Dohn Joe, Jan 18th, 2011 @ 10:37pm

    Inside Job

    Well considering Microsoft, who has a major interest in seeing Bing promoted, is a major shareholder in Facebook so nobody can claim this was somes sort of accident...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Miff (profile), Jan 19th, 2011 @ 2:01am


    I doubt that Facebook has any idea what kind of ads they run. They probably just rent out the space to a third-party company to do whatever they please.

    For those of you who've been on deviantArt about a year ago, there was a big "deviantArt gives you viruses" panic going on. It turns out that the actual culprit was not dA, but rather a third-party ad within a third-party ad within a third-party ad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    HummerBug, Jan 19th, 2011 @ 2:13am


    Not surprised by this article.
    Facebook admin are usually too busy ignoring innocent users whom have had their accounts disabled for no reason, to be bothered checking who their biggest advertisers are.
    I'm I the only one who thinks Facebook are just taking the Pi$$ all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Andrew (profile), Jan 19th, 2011 @ 3:35am

    Re: Well

    Certainly at the low level, this isn't true. I ran a campaign on Facebook recently that was initially rejected because the picture I used was deemed to be too racy. Someone checks the ads before they go out.

    Of course they may have different arrangements with larger ad providers, but I'd like to think that they had a pretty good idea who they are already.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2011 @ 6:37am

    Facebook does what many websites (including TD) do, they give much of their ad space over to third parties. They don't control what the third parties do with that space. The third party ad service may have terms and conditions, but they are often not met, and they rarely properly vet ads before they are run.

    Many of those third parties resell their ads to other ad companies as "filler". Now facebook is two steps away from whatever appears on the their site.

    Many smaller ad companies run infested ads on purpose. The most common is flash ads that open new windows only on mouseover, or that are plain misleading, getting people to click which leads them to a toolbar install. Surprisingly, the old "you need a codec to see this video" crap still works really well.

    Facebook fails because they permit a lot of hanky panky in the ads, they don't pay attention to what third parties do, and they allow those third parties to resell to resellers. They also allow other people to serve the ads (they image or flash doesn't come from the ad company, it often comes directly from the ad buyer's servers), which means even vetted ads can be changed, or different ads served depending on Geo location and such. While facebook isn't directly guilty of anything, they do appear to be someone ignorant of the abuses on their system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Facebook sucks!! You wind up with all these people you never heard of trying to know you. We are all so lonely, it seems, that we jump at the chance to get a friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Atkray (profile), Jan 19th, 2011 @ 7:39am


    Nah, just want my farm to be bigger than yours.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Brock Phillimore (profile), Jan 19th, 2011 @ 2:20pm

    I would not be surprised to find out Facebook wasn't nearly as profitable as it claims.

    There are lots of ways to make revenues appear larger than they are. Remember back in the Tech bubble when other internet darlings would advertise with each other. No money changed hands, but advertising revenue would be inflated. Facebook is probably doing something different, but they have made it clear they don't want the SEC or anyone else auditing their accounting practices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    brentSBLOG, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 10:35am


    it sounds a little fishy but maybe they are just computer scientist finding a way to Arbitrage and their model kept letting them bid up on facebook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
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    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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