Ads for face masks are still appearing on Facebook, Instagram and Google, according to a review of the platforms carried out by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP). This despite pledges by the platforms that they would stamp out ads which seek to profit from the coronavirus pandemic.
Facebook said on March 6 that it would temporarily ban commerce listings and advertisements for medical face masks, in an effort to combat price-gouging and misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis.
The risk of online misinformation exacerbating a global public health crisis has been front of mind for policymakers in many Western markets. Meanwhile front-line medical staff continue to face shortages of vital personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, as they battle rising rates of infection.
There has also been concern that online sellers are attempting to cash in on a public health crisis by price gouging and/or targeting internet users with ads for substandard masks.
A week later and ads are still circulating.
The TTP — a research project by the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability, a group which focuses on exposing misconduct and malfeasance in public life — reported finding web users still being targeted with face mask ads on Google this week.
It also conducted a review of Facebook and Instagram, and was able to find more than 130 pages on Facebook listing masks for sale, including some using the platform’s e-commerce tools.
“One Facebook Page called ‘CoronaVirus Mask’ offers a ‘respiratory mask collection,’ with prices ranging from $32 to $37, and uses Facebook’s ‘Shop’ feature to display its merchandise and allow people to add purchases to their cart,” it writes in a blog post. “Facebook’s ‘check out on website’ button then directs users to complete the purchase on the seller’s website.”
“Facebook pages that use WhatsApp to establish contact with buyers are employing a tactic commonly used by wildlife and other traffickers, who often display goods on Facebook and then arrange the actual purchase through WhatsApp encrypted messages. The Facebook Page ‘Surgical Face Mask For Sale,’ for example, has a video showing boxes of medical masks and the seller’s WhatsApp number scrawled on a piece of paper,” it added.
“A visit to one of these Facebook pages often triggers recommendations for other pages selling face masks, a sign that the platform’s algorithms are actually amplifying the reach of these sketchy sellers. TTP, without logging into Facebook, went to the page for ‘Corona Mask Shop’ and was served up ‘Related Pages’ for ‘Corona Mask 247′ and ‘Corona MASK on sale.’ ”
TechCrunch conducted our own searches on Facebook today and while some obvious search terms returned …read more
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