Facebook and the state of Washington are suing an ad network they accuse of encouraging people to spread spam through clickjacking schemes and other tactics.
The company at the center of the allegations, Adscend Media, denies the charges and said it will fight them vigorously. According to the office of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, the company paid and encouraged scammers to design Facebook pages to bait users into visiting Websites that pay the company. The bait pages would appear in posts that seem to originate from a person’s Facebook friends and offer visitors an opportunity to view “provocative” content in exchange for clicking the ‘like’ button on the Facebook page.
By clicking ‘like’, the user alerts their Facebook friends to the page. From there, the user was directed to complete one of several online surveys and provide information such as their age. Oftentimes, the promised content did not exist, and the duped user was directed off Facebook through a series of prompts that took them to unrelated Websites. In some cases, clickjacking was used to activate the ‘like’ function and spread spam, according to the state’s suit.
“The natural reaction is to wonder why anyone would click on these links,” said Assistant Attorney General Paula Selis, who heads the office’s Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit, in a statement. “But, unfortunately they do, and at one point Adscend spam lined the defendants’ pockets with up to $1.2 million a month.”
Facebook, which filed its own suit against the company, applauded Washington officials for their move.
“Security is an arms race, and that’s why Facebook is committed to constantly improving our consumer safeguards while pursuing and supporting civil and criminal consequences for bad actors,” Facebook General Counsel Ted Ullyot said in a statement.
Adscend called the allegations “absolutely and unequivocally false.”
“At no time did we engage in the activity alleged in the complaints…We are undertaking an investigation to determine whether any of Adscend Media’s affiliates engaged in the activity alleged by the Attorney General’s office and Facebook,” according to the company. “If they did, we are fully certain that the activity was conducted without the company’s knowledge.”
“If our investigation determines that any affiliate(s) engaged in this improper activity, Adscend will administer its long-standing company policy and immediately terminate the affiliate(s) responsible for these actions – as we have in the past when our internal mechanism has made such discoveries,” the company added.