In simultaneous lawsuits, State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Facebook accused an Internet-advertising company of using trickery to drive Facebook users to commercial sites.
State Attorney General Rob McKenna stood alongside Facebook lawyers Thursday to announce a “one-two” private-public legal attack on an Internet-advertising company they say tricks users of the popular social-media site into clicking on advertisements or other hidden content when they think they’re responding to a posting from a friend.
McKenna’s office filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Seattle, accusing Adscend Media, a Delaware company, of violating the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM) and state commercial email and consumer-protection laws.
Simultaneously, attorneys for Facebook filed a federal lawsuit against Adscend in San Jose, Calif., citing alleged CAN-SPAM violations. Both lawsuits seek injunctions, damages and attorneys fees from Adscend and its owners, Fehzan Ali of Austin, Texas, and Jeremy Bush of Huntington, W.Va.
At a joint news conference Thursday at the Facebook offices, McKenna and Facebook’s attorneys accused Adscend of making $20 million a year through a scam called “click-jacking,” where postings sent to the tens of millions of Facebook and other social-media users — sometimes appearing to come from family or friends — are booby-trapped with hidden links that forward the message to all of their friends and contacts.
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Sometimes the messages promise free merchandise or salacious content. Instead of delivering, the lawsuits allege they direct the user to commercial sites of Adscend’s customers, who have a contract to pay Adscend a commission every time someone clicks on their site.
Sometimes, the hidden links are disguised to appear as a Facebook security feature, such as an age-verification button, but actually trigger Facebook’s “Like” or “Share” features, sending the deceptive message to everyone on the user’s “Friends” list.
“The scheme perpetuates itself, and Adscend makes a lot of money,” said Assistant Attorney General Paula Selis.
Messages left on Adscend’s Web page and Twitter account, seeking comment, were not immediately returned.
Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said the particular security vulnerability that allowed Facebook’s customers to be tricked has been fixed, but said that the spammers and their targets are involved in an “arms war” where tactics continuously evolve.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org