Fake Crypto-ads: Google, Facebook are complicit, if not guilty
With respect to public perception, cryptocurrencies still occupy a grey area. While the use-cases of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have been made evident over the past decade, there is still quite a bit of skepticism in the minds of individuals who aren’t entirely familiar with how cryptocurrencies operate.
The asset class’s sensationalized association with bad actors and scamsters still deter many individuals from getting on board the crypto-bandwagon, despite the troubling performance of traditional finance and fiat currencies over the past few years. Despite increased regulation and big wigs in the world of finance throwing their weight behind this emerging market, what has stopped the average person from trying out an alternate form of finance?
Cryptocurrencies can’t seem to shake off their ‘association’ with crime
Countless studies have shown that there aren’t any unique ties between crypto and cybercrime and that akin to the usage of cash, crypto too does come in contact with bad actors.
However, these studies are coming to naught as over the past year, crypto-scams have emerged as one of the fundamental concerns of the cryptocurrency space.
Despite stricter regulations, crypto-scams continue to exist on popular content platforms like Facebook and YouTube, existing with rarely any consequence. The fact that atrociously scammy ads continue to pop up on trusted websites does create an unfair impression, not just on the industry, but also on individual users.
While the far from ideal reception crypto has received from the general public can’t all be blamed on ads floating around Google’s search engine results and Facebook pages, they certainly contribute to the overall perception many users have regarding crypto. While in the U.S the Federal Trade Commission does have guidelines regarding advertising and ‘truthfulness,’ the past few years have seen a wide barrage of advertisements related to cryptocurrencies pop-up on very many websites.
Are the world’s largest Internet companies complicit?
Less than a year ago, Facebook was in the news after a Dutch court ordered the social media giant to take down advertisements promoting get rich quick schemes that featured a local celebrity – Dutch billionaire John de Mol.
Over the years, Facebook has reiterated its stand that it will not police any of the content featured on its website – but will purely act as an aggregator of content in its bid to maintain the basic tenets pertaining to free speech. However, this also ends up enabling bad actors to exploit users who may not be very well-versed with crypto or the best practices to avoid falling for online scams.
Interestingly, one can argue that if non-crypto users are targeted with such advertisements, it can in turn become a huge barrier against crypto-adoption. In the suit filed against Facebook, the summary judgment had read,
“Facebook’s arguments that it is just a neutral funnel for information, and therefore cannot be obligated to act, is not acceptable”
Similarly, tech giant Google was involved in a similar incident – playing the part of the enabler. Google’s advertising platform over the past few years has been home to various fraudulent crypto-ads through its advertising network. In fact, a British-based Bitcoin exchange, CoinCorner, earlier in the year reported that Google advertising algorithm was displaying a fraudulent ad that led to a mirror website of the exchange, one that is supposedly intended for phishing purposes. CoinCorner’s Marketing Manager, Molly Spiers, had then reported the issue.
— Molly Spiers (@CoinCornerMolly) April 30, 2020
While the world’s largest social media website and the world’s largest search engine operator are no strangers to fraudulent crypto-advertisements, it is also natural that one of the largest online video-sharing platforms – YouTube – follows suit. Earlier in the year, Ripple Labs had filed a lawsuit against YouTube for promoting and not stopping XRP giveaway ads and other impersonators from continuing to advertise on its platform. One of the accusations in the lawsuit had read,
“Ripple has repeatedly demanded that YouTube take action to stop the Scam and prevent further harm. Yet YouTube refuses, even where the same scheme is replicated time and again on its platform. YouTube’s response has been woefully inadequate and incomplete.”
Woefully inadequate and incomplete.
It is clearly evident that global Internet companies aren’t doing enough to clamp down on fake crypto-ads on their platforms. It is difficult to know here whether they’re even trying to do so or whether they even care. What is however clear as day is the fact that by facilitating the operation of such scams, these platforms are complicit and perhaps, culpable. That, and the fact that their grievance redressal is worse than AT&T’s suggests that this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon.
While adoption of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin has been on a steady incline, public perception and social stigma is something that cryptocurrencies do battle on a day to day basis. While the tag of Internet currency may have gone, a lot of users still have reservations when it comes to crypto. The fact that such openly fraudulent advertising is being carried out on major platforms is a huge problem, one that not just raises questions pertaining to censorship and expression, but also includes questions of ethics and principle.