Bloomberg reports on how Facebook actively helps scammers and shady sales operations target their customers.
Officially, the Berlin conference was for aboveboard marketing, but the attendees I spoke to ... told me that Facebook had revolutionized scamming. The company built tools with its trove of user data that made it the go-to platform for big brands. Affiliates hijacked them. Facebook’s targeting algorithm is so powerful, they said, they don’t need to identify suckers themselves—Facebook does it automatically. And they boasted that Russia’s dezinformatsiya agents were using tactics their community had pioneered.
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Gryn estimated that users of his tracking software place $400 million worth of ads a year on Facebook and an additional $1.3 billion elsewhere. (He later showed me reports that roughly support those figures.) It’s not just affiliates who think Gryn is at the pinnacle of the industry. In June, just before the conference, Facebook’s newly installed executive in charge of fighting shady ads, Rob Leathern, had invited him to the company’s London office to explain the latest affiliate tricks.
The basic process isn’t complicated. For example: A maker of bogus diet pills wants to sell them for $100 a month and doesn’t care how it’s done. The pill vendor approaches a broker, called an affiliate network, and offers to pay a $60 commission per sign-up. The network spreads the word to affiliates, who design ads and pay to place them on Facebook and other places in hopes of earning the commissions. The affiliate takes a risk, paying to run ads without knowing if they’ll work, but if even a small percentage of the people who see them become buyers, the profits can be huge.
Affiliates once had to guess what kind of person might fall for their unsophisticated cons, targeting ads by age, geography, or interests. Now Facebook does that work for them. The social network tracks who clicks on the ad and who buys the pills, then starts targeting others whom its algorithm thinks are likely to buy. Affiliates describe watching their ad campaigns lose money for a few days as Facebook gathers data through trial and error, then seeing the sales take off exponentially. “They go out and find the morons for me,” I was told by an affiliate who sells deceptively priced skin-care creams with fake endorsements from Chelsea Clinton.
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Because Facebook is so effective at vacuuming up people and information about them, anyone who lacks scruples and knows how to access the system can begin to wreak havoc or earn money at astonishing scale.
There's more at the link.
Given recent revelations about just how much information Facebook, Google et. al. harvest about each of us, and how difficult it is to stop that process (and erase what they've gleaned), that makes this even worse. Scammers can appear genuine, even interesting, if they cloak their approaches in a way that makes them seem familiar and attractive to us - approaches that we would never expect a complete stranger to be able to use. However, since all our information is out there, and Facebook actively uses it to target us with advertisements, the work of scammers is made that much easier.