In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the various other platform misuse controversies which have been uncovered since, Facebook is looking to tighten its reigns, and get more serious about on-platform fraud and scammers.
Over the past several months, Facebook has launched legal action against several companies for operating fake Like and engagement services. And now, Facebook's taking aim at another type of misrepresentation, in the form of 'click injection' scams.
As explained by Facebook:
"Today, Facebook filed suit against two app developers for click injection fraud. The developers made apps available on the Google Play store to infect their users’ phones with malware. The malware created fake user clicks on Facebook ads that appeared on the users’ phones, giving the impression that the users had clicked on the ads."
As outlined here, 'click injection' is essentially building a system which simulates ad clicks, and presents them as actual engagement.
The issue is a major one for Facebook, as it not only costs the company in a monetary sense, but it also has the potential to undermine confidence in the data that it provides to its advertisers.
The two developers identified in this case are Hong Kong-based LionMobi, and Singapore-based JediMobi, both of which have now been banned and had their accounts disabled. The two companies were able to earn money from the scheme by driving fake clicks to Facebook Audience Network ads which appeared within their apps, then earning payouts from Facebook for that engagement. Facebook says that all of the advertisers who had been charged for these fake clicks were refunded for such costs earlier in the year.
The filing is the first of its kind, according to Facebook, and highlights another way that the platform is looking to stamp out scammers and those seeking to cheat its systems.
But it also highlights another potential area of concern - how much can you really rely on the engagement data that Facebook provides if its system is able to be cheated like this?
Click fraud is not new, of course - most within the industry have at least some awareness of such operations and how the various processes work. Click fraud is also not new to Facebook - there are plenty of ways to buy Likes, comments and Page followers to artificially inflate your numbers, and those operations can, at times, also bleed into ad metrics. But the fact that this is within Facebook's own dataset, the information that it's then presenting to advertisers, and that its system, in some ways, incentivizes such cheating, seems like a problem.
If app developers can earn more money by driving more clicks, you can bet some will seek ways to game that process.
The case may provide Facebook with a legal precedent for future action, while it also, again, highlights the expanded lengths the company is going to in order to secure its systems.
But it may also only be the start - there could be more cases to come of businesses which are cheating Facebook's system, and lessening the value of Facebook ads by 'injecting' false clicks.