More misadventures on Facebook

Social networking provides a growing market for sleazy business practices -- and the antidote to exposing scams as they happen

A story made its way around the InterWebs today about a sneaky little scam that persuaded people -- through social networking site advertisements -- to click on a link to Make-My-Baby.com, which would require users to install a browser toolbar before they could begin creating silly baby faces. The toolbar, when installed, would in turn change their default search engine and home page to an affiliate branded version of Bing.

To be fair, the site announced this was the case, so users would have to persist despite the warning. Those who did could create silly baby faces at will, while the site itself subsequently monetized their search activity, cashing in on each link clicked as a result of using that Bing tool.

[ Social networkers should beware the rise of con artistry on Facebook. | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

It's a sleazy business model, for sure. But the reason it made news was not the sleaze -- it was because AdAge named the site the third-largest advertiser in social networks. As Google's Matt Cutts suggests, this probably amounts to being the third-largest advertiser on Facebook, the biggest social network advertising game in town.

As it turns out, the silly baby face site was never a Facebook advertiser, according to Brandon McCormick, a spokesperson for Facebook via WebProNews. The practice violates Facebook's policies and would cause any ad to be automatically rejected. After the company and its practice was pointed out to Microsoft, it too booted the company as an affiliate, and now the silly baby face site is gone.

I would call this a win for the people. With the power of slightly inaccurate but speedy commentary, we the people are capable of correcting a wrong on the Web less than 24 hours after it's noticed -- before most users had time to quite understand or even know what was going on. The Web is a little cleaner because of it.

A similar incident happened when Facebook announced on Friday that application developers would be able to access Facebook users' phone numbers and addresses by default whenever a user installed the developer's app. Facebook's users didn't like it, and they spoke out. Today, Facebook recanted that decision. Douglas Purdy announced on the Facebook developer blog: "As with the other information you share through our permissions process, you need to explicitly choose to share this data before any application or website can access it."

Three days to get a huge company to change practices? That's pretty quick. It takes me that long to get my teenager to take a shower.

I know this outlook is a bit optimistic for the Gripe Line, but I consider it progress. Back when I was writing Consumer Watch at PC World, it took a lot longer than a few hours or the weekend to make companies amend practices people didn't like and to completely take down a sleazy vendor.

Got gripes or questions? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "More misadventures on Facebook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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