Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL have teamed up to create TrustInAds.org, which will be an industry watchdog and consumer protection service to fight misleading ads online. As they collect complaints, they will actively remove offending ads and release “Bad Ad Trends” reports.
To coincide with the site’s launch, they released their first Bad Ad Trends full report. The focus this time around is on advertisements that encourage users to call a tech support hotline. Tech support in and of itself is not the problem, but rather the way this business was conducted by some so-called “bad actors”.
The bad actors in this case would intentionally lead callers to believe they were calling the company that manufactured the product in need of support, gaining undue credibility in the process. Even worse, these scammers would advise callers to download special software to fix the problem, when in fact the software was actually a mixture of spyware, adware, keystroke loggers, and similarly shady products.
In some cases, according to the report, the installed software would render the customer’s computer unusable until they paid “support fees” through untraceable channels.
Over 4,000 advertiser accounts were implicated and removed by Google and Facebook. The websites that customers were referred to used at least 2,400 different URLs. Clearly, these companies invested a great deal of time and effort trying to weed out this particular problem. If TrustInAds can continue weeding out problems of this magnitude, the project will probably be well worth all that effort.
The Internet is becoming more and more reliant on advertising revenue. Google, the fourth most valuable company in the world, gets 97% of its revenue from advertising. For Facebook, just under 90%. “Virtually all” of Twitter’s income is ad-based. You get the idea. While TrustInAds probably has some altruistic motives, these companies have no chance of surviving if nobody clicks on the advertisements they sell. There is good reason to be skeptical of these companies’ data collection practices as they try to target those ads, we need them to serve more than just the most gullible web surfers.
Things don’t always work this way, but in this case it seems possible for both average Internet users and the biggest advertising companies to win. Nobody but the scammer benefits from a scam, since each person that is affected by a misleading advertisement becomes much less likely to ever click on one again. Viruses, malware, and scams from ads on Internet pornography sites have become infamous, for instance. If consumers do not perceive ads to be evil and untrustworthy, they might just click them.
People might actually find good products or services that improve their livelihood if there is some level of trust in these advertisements. Likewise, we all get the benefits of the presence of ad providers like Google who power our phones, emails, chat, and so much more. Even better, ad revenue makes great sites like GeekSided possible.
TrustInAds says it best on their about page when they say that we have all experienced the benefits on online advertising: it is unprecedentedly cheap, easy, and provides high margins unlike sometimes expensive-to-produce physical marketing materials. Now, we need to make online marketing as useful as billboards, television, newspaper, and radio ads.
I say this is a consumer-friendly step in the right direction. If you run into scammy ads, let TrustInAds member companies know by filing a report.