Social Enterprise

Old School ad scam hits Facebook; switches users to Microsoft's Bing

It's been a long time since we've seen any of those old ad scams that reset the browser's home page and changes the default settings -- but they’re back.

It's been a long time since we've seen any of those old ad scams that reset the browser's home page and changes the default settings - but they're back. And this time, the ad is working its way through Facebook - and benefiting Microsoft's Bing search engine. (Techmeme)

The word "scam" is a loaded one because it implies that the people behind it are doing something illegal - and that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case. What they're doing may be deceptive but the folks who click a mouse button to grant permission without reading the fine print are certainly opting-in to allow a third-party to change their settings - just like they would do to activate the pop-up windows back in the early days of Web surfing.

This issue surfaced when Advertising Age reported on an eMarketer report that found an unknown site called make-my-baby.com was the third largest advertiser on Facebook, buying 1.75 billion ad impressions in the third quarter. That's when Matt Cutts, a software engineer at Google, started poking around - and posted his findings on Buzz. He wrote:

Visiting make-my-baby.com instantly prompts you to install a browser plugin. The "terms and conditions" link takes you to http://mmb.bingstart.com/terms/ which has phrases like "If Chrome ("CR") is installed on your PC we may change the default setting of your home page on CR to Bingstart.com."

...If make-my-baby.com is Facebook's 3rd biggest advertiser, I wonder how many people are installing this software without reading the fine print that says "Installing the toolbar includes managing the browser default search settings and setting your homepage to bing.com" ?

Now, nothing here implies that Microsoft is even hip to what's going on. After all, this is affiliate marketing and there are plenty of third-party companies out there who find creative ways - or revive old ways - of getting people to agree to terms and conditions in exchange for a plug-in that unlocks a game or some other feature.  It's not necessarily illegal when users offer their consent. But it certainly reeks of unethical behavior.

More importantly, it also prompts a question over the advertising practices. If this is the third-largest advertiser on Facebook - behind AT&T and Match.com - then it certainly must have caught the attention of someone at that company. Is anyone watching what these advertisers are doing or are they just humming all the way to the bank with a fat check?

Again, this isn't to say that Facebook is doing anything wrong either - but for a company that's constantly under the spotlight for its practices around user privacy and other sensitive matters, one might think that the company would keep a closer eye on what it's advertisers are subjecting the users to.

Then again, there are plenty of people on Facebook who are doing some pretty crazy things - like downloading any and every game or posting their new cell phone numbers on their profiles. It's no wonder that this third-party company saw an opportunity to make a few bucks on an audience that often leaves its guard down.

This is a guest post from Sam Diaz, Senior Editor at ZDNet, TechRepublic's sister site. You can follow Sam on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines (or subscribe to the RSS feed).

10 comments
jemorris
jemorris

There was a check box as to whether or not you wanted to install it, unfortunately the default on it was checked so if you weren't watching the myriad prompt boxes that kept coming up you missed it on the second or third prompt. I had to go to "add & remove" programs in the control panel to remove the "bling" toolbar and in both IE and Firefox go into setting for default search provider to reset users preference back to original setting.

michalshome
michalshome

How does one change it back from Bing to Google Chrome?

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

Microsoft has already dropped those folks from their affiliate program because of their hijinx. Was on CNET this morning

seanferd
seanferd

Bing is a search engine. Chrome is a browser. Ask again accordingly. If it is just that your default search engine changed, change it back in the browser settings.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

Seems like I can't turn around without having Bing try to take back control of my browser and I don't go anywhere near facebook or Mybaby. MS is just doing their normal I want control of you whether you like it or not. It's all about the $.

Ric_Shanahan
Ric_Shanahan

I opened Firefox this morning and the Bing toolbar and search window were installed. I am not the only one who uses this computer. Sigh...

jlbailey
jlbailey

Regrettably I do not understand this instruction. Please spell out the steps I must take to remove "Bing" and return to the standard Mozilla Firefox opening page.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Have you installed Adobe Flash Player or Adobe Reader lately? There are probably dozens of third party software and addons that make good money getting you to use/install Bing and probably get credit each time they switch you back to Bing, if you have removed the toolbar or changed your home page.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Has a prechecked opt-in option for the Bing toolbar, though I can't say I've seen updates push it onto a computer.