Even if you have the rosiest outlook on technology, there are always negatives associated with using a computer and the internet. Malicious actors have been a threat to software ever since the Brain virus infected its first floppy disk way back in 1986. However, the last few decades have introduced more than a few online scams, as criminals try to steal cash and identities from web users.

Facebook and Google were recently accused of all but ignoring scam advertising on their respective platforms by Which?, a consumer watchdog. While Mark Zuckerberg’s social network, in particular, boasts an impressive security department of 35,000 experts, almost 300 people have fallen victim to ‘bad ads’ on Facebook. These adverts found their way through the platform’s AI defenses too.

Online Advertising Growth

Worryingly for Facebook’s users, solutions do exist to reduce or eliminate the risk of malicious advertising or “malvertising”. Browser extensions are popular with users themselves but company websites and social media pages have options like GeoEdge. This kind of service creates a barrier between a website’s audience and scam advertising. GeoEdge also removes the need to monitor ads for malvertisement risks individually, freeing up resources.

Despite a slump early in 2020, the popularity of online advertising increased 12% on the previous year, though revenues fell 5%. This growth, coupled with Facebook’s lax monitoring, presents a concern for the company’s 2.8bn members, not least because 26% of people who experienced and reported a scam continued to see the offending advert online. That figure climbs to 34% on Google’s website.

While it’s inevitable that online criminals will – and have – become more sophisticated, website users may inadvertently be creating more victims by failing to report malicious advertisements to webmasters. Many people don’t know how to though, which is, once again, a failing on the part of Google and Facebook. The previous set of figures does not create much confidence in the two company’s advert removal process, either.

Global Framework

So, what’s the solution? A proposed Online Safety Bill would make websites legally responsible for hosting scam content and for ensuring the safety of their subscribers. While it would only affect content accessed in the UK, it’s nevertheless a bold move towards making corporations accountable for the scenarios they create online. The likes of Facebook and Google have previously self-regulated.

The global reach of websites is part of the problem, at least as far as scam advertisements (and their removal) are concerned. Online companies agree to abide by the laws of the countries they operate in, which means that the legality of certain things can change from place to place. For a variety of reasons, Facebook has been fined in the United States, Italy, Russia, and Hungary, among other countries.

Being unable to build a unified global framework for the creation and removal of advertisements almost guarantees that malicious content will continue to cause problems for web users. This failure diverts responsibility to each individual user, rather than the ecosystem that placed them in harm’s way in the first place.

It's difficult to see how this situation will be resolved.

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