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Facebook's 3rd Biggest Advertiser is a Bing Affiliate Scam (readwriteweb.com)
202 points by joshfraser on Jan 18, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

So funny to see Zugo around...

They've had offered us to bundle their 'nice' toolbar inside the VLC installer so that every install of VLC would have install this thing...

And they proposed a very high value for each install...

This is off topic of this conversation, but I have to say that I absolutely love VLC. Thank you all.

well, Im glad you didn't. VLC is by far the best Vid player out there and only is getting better. I hate spam and the non-super users would sadly accidentally install it.

One nice thing about HN, is that you occasionally stumble across the people that write the software you use. Thanks for VLC. And thank you for turning Zugo down. Priorities are everything.

VLC is by far the best Vid player out there

Only if you aren't watching files with, say, ordered chapters, or comments inside the SSA files.

Granted, that's most of the population, but there's a very particular dislike of VLC in the animu community, although some of the commonly-stated criticisms have since been fixed.

This is true.

And while, the SSA situation was catastrophic, this is now fixed, I believe (even comments).

The ordered and linked chapter in MKV is still not resolved... Patches are welcome.

What I don't understand is why Bing doesn't stop them...


how much did they offer to pay per install?

Sorry, but mail me for this piece of information...

That info serves absolutely no one except the spammers by giving them some leads.

I wonder if Bing has seen an uptick in searches for 'why has Google changed colours' and 'why is Google now spelled Bing'?

I suspect the mystery of the changed homepage and new toolbar is, to many users, alongside the mystery of why the printer sometimes doesn't work or my cell phone drops out when I'm still in the living room. 'It's technology. It happens. Nothing I can do about it.'

Which I guess means Zugo [Edit - actually, Make-my-baby.com] is manipulating the uneducated (in a tech sense). Borderline business behaviour, though a well thought out and executed strategy.

It's too soon to blame this on Zugo, unless you know more than was stated in the article. As far as we know, they're just a custom toolbar distributor, like Conduit and many other companies. How many people away they are from the affiliate buying the ads, how many people away they are from the company paying that affiliate, and whether any terms and conditions in-between forbid tricking people into installs are all unknowns.

Zugo can certainly take some flack for having a toolbar without an uninstaller, and an FAQ URL that doesn't work. When something becomes purposely difficult to uninstall for end-users it crosses over into malware territory.

You're right - I mis-read the article as saying Zugo was the advertiser. My previous comment has been edited to make the same statement about Make-my-baby.com

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -Arthur C. Clarke

Seems apt for non-working technology, as well.

I really liked this quote: "Between the incredible growth of casual games that arguably do little for the collective human experience but consume a growing amount of it each day... it's hard sometimes to take Facebook seriously when it says it wants to bring people together and make the world a better place."

> casual games that arguably do little for the collective human experience but consume a growing amount of it each day

Who's to say that whatever people were doing with that time before was doing something significant "for the collective human experience"?

Facebook games (and MMOs in general, for the most part) are designed tightly around a feedback loop meant to make the game as addictive as possible. It strongly reminds me of experiments where rats are given a choice between eating and receiving a shock of pleasure:


The worst part of these games is that they can act as a surrogate for success: your life may not be progressing in any way whatsoever, you may have goals and aspirations that you are not pursuing, but you are getting rewards and constantly progressing in a game - I'm not sure how good our brain is at distinguishing between real and virtual rewards (especially when the virtual rewards are guaranteed, but the real rewards are... well... hard).


All this is to say: other potential time wasters (TV is probably the most common) may be less likely to cause addictive and/or harmful behavior (I can't believe I'm arguing that TV may be less harmful than video games, but there it is). Sure, the majority of people can play causal games strictly in their downtime, but for some it spills over into what may otherwise be productive time, and for a relative few it can take over (where do you think Zynga's revenue is really coming from?)

There was an article on this I read a year ago called Awesome By Proxy: Addicted to Fake Achievement


Thanks for that link - excellent article.

Agreed. I mean, if people take the time that they would have spent playing Solitaire and Minesweeper and use it to play Farmville instead, is that really such a waste?

I don't know why you were downvoted. I believe you are making a valid point. The internet didn't invent wasting time, it just is better at convincing you that you aren't.

Most "normal" people waste the majority of their leisure hours, depending on your definition of waste. The audience here, however, is not typical.

This audience is not atypical with regard to time wasting. (It is typical).

I'm 'wasting' time right now skimming this article, reading this thread, posting a response about how i'm wasting time right now.

The difference is that I think it is interesting to read about failing software startups with billions of dollars invested in them. So it is atypical with regard to subject matter. I have no interest in american idol or tom cruise or Oprah or glen beck.

I also find that I am most productive at programming when I approach it as a fun game that I am 'wasting time' at.

(apologies for going meta).

But as Zuck didn't say to Eduardo: "they might get laid."


It happens. If it gets you laid, it sure is making the world a better place.

It sounds very poignant but the real question is what proportion of time spent on Facebook is just playing casual games? If most people are still spending their time posting photos, messaging, commenting, then Facebook does create a lot of value.

With new technologies and their implementations, you see all sorts of new opportunities for connecting people with value and making money. Along with this come the scammers, spammers, and idle wastes of time. It's nothing new, just even faster and more pervasive.

Also, it's sometimes hard to distinguish something new and valuable from an idle waste of time. As my dad says, you never know which cloud is going to give you rain.

To be fair, Facebook isn't the only ad network filled with dodgy ads. Matt Cutts wouldn't have to look far to find other similar "scams".

What I really like is when I'm showing my friends a YouTube video and suddenly there's a pop-up with my health information.

I was taken aback somewhat when a "Hey PlentyOfFish user, log back in today!" banner popped up over a video.

I didn't log back in that day, and decided to stop doing so.

That's just retargetting, quite common.

ohashi beat me to it. That's almost certainly a website that you've visited using retargetting. More info: http://www.bizreport.com/2010/03/google_adwords_finally_gets... . Article starts out "While Yahoo, ValueClick and other ad networks have offered ad retargeting for some time, Google has only just released it to their AdWords customers after twelve months in beta."

Are you serious? Got an example?

I don't have a screen shot, but I do get text pop-ups from Google on top of my YouTube videos with things from my search history. For example, "Is leg pain a problem in your life? Go to [...]." (This actually happened.)

Just yesterday I got one from SpecialTeas.com which said something like "We miss you at SpecialTeas, please come back."

The point is that it's not cool to be showing someone a YouTube video and then all of a sudden not only are there ads showing up based on my search history, but the ads are actually incorporating my search strings and purchase history directly into their text. Especially when these have to do with personal issues, medical problems, etc.

Is there anyone here who wouldn't be uncomfortable if they were in a movie theater with their family and friends and all then without any warning they suddenly started projecting your Google history and credit card purchase history from the last 5+ years? (Both of the examples listed were drawing on searches I had done 3 to 7 years previously.)

At least it wasn't a Valtrex ad.

Not sure how you'd do this, but there's probably a way to prevent your Google cookies from being sent to YouTube at the browser level. It'd be an ugly hack, but a usable one nonetheless.

If he doesn't want his friends to see his health information, I don't think he'd feel comfortable linking to a screenshot of it showing up on YouTube...

Maybe I could have been more clear. I was asking for a detailed description of what he saw, not a screenshot.

that's beyound crazy ... a simple health ad maybe but with personal information it's beyound crazy... do you have an example ... the url from that AD

Right, it's not as if Google ever tried to get me to install their toolbar in my browser so far this week.

Update: That word million doesn't seem right, in order for this company to be the third largest advertiser on Facebook, that's got to be a typo. It's possible that AdAge mistyped this, that's the simplest explanation. I've asked the reporter for clarification and apologize for not getting it prior. Thanks as always to our eagle eyed commenters.

They are noting in the comments that 1.75 million ad impressions would probably only cost the advertiser a few hundred dollars, which would make it difficult for that to be the third largest advertiser considering advertising brought in a $1.86billion. I don't know anything about the cost of advertising, but do those numbers seem right?

I stopped advertising on Facebook a couple of years ago because the ROI just wasn't there, but using Google's Display Network I can easily get to 1.75 million impressions pretty quickly with a bid of $0.50 CPM (cost per thousand impressions).

That means $875 could buy 1.75 million impressions.

Facebook might be more expensive, but even if it's $1 per thousand impressions, that's only $1,750.

I think the 1.75 million number in the article is incorrect.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: people aren't on Facebook to spend money. They're on there to see what they're friends are doing and communicate. If a friend posts a cool link in their feed, sure you'll get a few visitors following that link. But if the link is in an ad to the right, people just aren't interested.

This differs from certain aspects of the Google Display Network. For example, if you're on a Transformers fansite, you're probably there to geek out about anything Transformers. In that scenario, if you see a banner ad with a really cool Transformer's T-Shirt displayed on it, the ad almost becomes part of the content at that point. You're much more likely to click on it and actually be interested to see where it leads. (As opposed to accidental clicks, which makes up a huge percentage of cost).

Maybe the long tail really does drop off that fast. According to the "Facebook is a Ponzi scheme" article ljlolel posted [1], most Facebook advertisers experiment for a while, then give up; that would make for a long tail and a steep curve.

[1] http://www.jperla.com/blog/post/facebook-is-a-ponzi-scheme

I've been thinking about it, and I think that another possibility is that there is no drop off, just a very flat curve with all companies spending a very similar but low amount, meaning the only reason facebook earns money from advertising is through the high volume of companies advertising on facebook. This makes sense in my mind, because I have a hard time believing google spends less than this unheard of company. But, your explanation seems equally likely at the moment...

I'll say it again, Facebook is making ephemeral cash flows which bolster more investment and thus attention and thus more ephemeral cash flows. Facebook is a ponzi scheme: http://www.jperla.com/blog/post/facebook-is-a-ponzi-scheme .

Warren Buffet became one of the richest people in the world based on ephemeral cash flows. (See Berkshire Hathaway and buying for cashflow)

You realize that the amount of cash printed is insufficient to even pay back the US Debt. The economy for the most part is a ponzi scheme. It will only stop working when the birth rate slips below the death rate, and at that point humanity is on a timeline. As Keynes said, 'in the long run we're all dead'.

The primary question with Facebook is how much more revenue they can suck up. Thats what's driving the crazy valuations and so far they haven't stopped booking revenue.

Warren Buffet's cash flows are from blue chip insurance companies. If the allegations in the article are true, the cash flows mentioned are far more ephemeral and far less reputable.

See below for population distribution of the U.S. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Uspop.svg

The people at that bulge in the middle are now in their late 50s. When they start to die and sell their assets all at once, we're going to see a major devaluation in the stock market, and real estate.

They won't be selling everything at once; it'll be distributed over 30-40 years. They don't have that much saved either: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/working-americans-have...

And, on top of all that, following the hump is another (albeit smaller) one filled with their kids.

It reminds me a little bit of PG's essay on Yahoo: http://paulgraham.com/yahoo.html

I don't think it's quite as bad or blatant though.

Yea! I saw pg's essay posted after I wrote this, and I noticed that he makes the same kind of argument. He calls it a pyramid scheme, but a ponzi scheme is a closer metaphor.

Either way, I think that prompting people to give access to their browser's settings under false pretense, and then changing their search provider and home page, is unethical.

Yes, I completely agree. I have several non-technical friends on Facebook who have been tricked into installing browser helpers (BHO) and it's disgusting. Every so often they post some kind of ridiculous advertisement in their status bar -- only it's not them, it's their browser doing it. It's like some hi-tech version of Tourrette's Syndrome.

But, playing devil's advocate -- and I love devil's advocate because when it's done well it makes you think -- there's nothing wrong with trading a cute interactive session of making a baby with setting the user's home page, or changing their browser, or selling them stocks, or taking all their money from their bank account, as long as the user knows the trade-offs they are making. People do all sorts of stupid things for ten minutes of entertainment. It's the trickery part that makes it a scam.

So the next obvious question for me has to be: what do these guys need to do in order not to be a scam? Make the text bigger? Bold? Have a flashing sign? Since a BHO can do all sorts of nastiness -- including things they are not currently designed to do -- how do you adequately inform the user of what kind of trade they are making?

Chrome has a nice way of doing this where you approve of the types of information you are allowing the helper to have. Still, even then there have been many times when installing something in Chrome that I've thought "Do I really want this particular widget having this kind of access? How do I know that the developers won't change what it does with my information on some future version?"

I am concerned that many of these articles sound like "See the witch! Burn the witch!" -- mindless mob thinking. I know it's much easier to sell salacious articles by pumping yourself up and being the superhero speaking out for truth and justice and all, but from a logical standpoint I'm much more interested in what specifically is wrong with a particular practice and what steps need to be taken to make it better. Demonizing these guys -- even if they are total assholes and are out to trick and cheat and steal everybody they find -- doesn't do much as far as advancing the discussion along for the rest of us. A little bit more analysis and information, a little bit less emotion, please.

Dark Patterns wiki (http://wiki.darkpatterns.org/Home) does a great job of identifying ux trickery, with a nice undertone of "See the witch! Burn the witch!"

Afaik I've never seen a single impression of that ad.

It would be interesting to know whether their ad targeting algorithm has me as in the unlikely to be interested in baby pictures demographic or in the people that have previously reported scammy ads demographic...

To be fair, hijacking ad click revenue seems a lot less underhand than some of the "Scamville" advertisers...

I'm not exactly the greatest fan of Facebook or MSFT and I do lean a bit favourably towards Google, but the article is a good representation of what is wrong with reporting on Tech/Digital these days - so much of it is just absolute breathlessness.

There is precious little in the story save what is already provided by Matt Cutts and there is this little gem towards the end:

"Is no one minding the store? Or are they just minding the cash register and turning away from what the customers are up to?"

That entire sentence could very well turn out to be true, but for the time being it is just opinion, which, after enough people repeat it, becomes a fact.

Next thing you know people will be making 'free' browsers just to capitalize on the search revenue.

A browser used by the user for browsing the is huge distances away from browser plugins that hijack the home page for purposes unrelated to the initiating task.

Perhaps bing works better when searching for baby face making sites.


I've certainly seen Google's toolbar bundled with pretty much anything not related to searching the web. Yes, it's easier to remove, but it's damn annoying after clicking Next Next Next, that Google Toolbar is installed.

Also, you'd never find a shitty site like baby-face-maker or whatever advertising on Google.

I thought Firefox was supported through AdSense at least in part? The default home-page for a fresh install is a customized Google search. If you click on an ad after your search, Mozilla gets a cut.

i think that was the joke.

Seems really weird that facebook would allow this type of ad. I know, "money is money", however with too many scammy advertisements, eventually people will lose trust in all ads and the overall click through rates will drop. You would think Facebook would want to have some controls over this to avoid devaluing their main source of revenue.

they do have an ad control but it is very hard to control those shady advertiser... they are ready to do anything to bypass any rule .. ask google about that ...

It has never been a problem in the past.

Another reason to stay away from clicking anything inside Facebook. Once I though they were amazing, now sadly I can see that as many other companies it is just money, no matter how.

I believe people here know better, but that should be the advice to anyone who uses Facebook.

I'm astounded Zynga isn't in the top ten advertisers on Facebook. Playdom probably is lumped into Disney these days, but unless Zynga's ad lab is named named Official IQ Quiz I don't see them here at all...

Trust Matt Cutts to find this and comment on it. :)

I wonder if he would have said anything if it was the switching default search provider to Google.

cough http://www.google.com/corporate/software_principles.html cough

apedley, in 2002 (2003?) or so, I spent a large fraction of my Christmas holidays with my in-laws in Omaha trying to uninstall all the scumware that had gotten on their machine. I was horrified to find out that Google had a business deal with one of the companies I found on my mother-in-law's computer. A bunch of us came back from that break determined not to spend next Christmas uninstalling scumware. We quickly kicked that scuzzy company out and put in place the guidelines linked above to keep Google from monetizing scumware/malware/etc.

Google may bundle its toolbar with some applications, but to the best of my knowledge we always insist on clear disclosure that the toolbar will be installed (we don't want users to be tricked) and easy removal. If you're aware of any counter-examples, please let me know and I'll ask someone to investigate it.

By the way, the best method to prevent scumware that I found back in those days: installing Firefox. No new scumware after the Firefox install plus some basic education.

"I'm shocked! Shocked! To find out that drive by downloading is going on in here!"

I guess he was finished finding all the spam on Google so he decided to help FB and Bing out. What nice guys over at Google.

"Interestingly, Google itself was the fifth-biggest advertiser for the same period, as it was looking to market its Chrome web browser."

Perhaps when he's done with that he can let his bosses know that unless you're careful when you install Chrome it sets itself as your default browser.

Maybe it's my naivety, but how are they a scam?

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