Friday, March 3, 2017

A Yahoo Spokesperson Speaks

If you're not sure what this is about, it's probably worth reading yesterday's blogpost... and possibly the long post before that one...

But here's Yahoo's response. I've screen grabbed it from the email so that I make sure I maintain the context.

It doesn't specifically answer any of the questions I raised yesterday but, at face value, it looks like exactly the right thing to say. They agree that these ads shouldn't be there. And they're telling us that they do take steps to stop it. Regularly.

It's just a shame that those steps don't seem to, y'know, actually succeed in stopping them...

Let me give you an example. On February 9th, I sent an email to Michael Todd and Gavin Patterson at BT with a screen grab of this ad:

The business name for the ad has been squeezed on the page, but it was businesscasestudies. The title for the ad is How Bannatyne Got Rich and the tag line is Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets.

The ad was also being served on Yahoo's home page etc.

If someone clicked on the ad they were taken to a URL that starts:

I've removed some digits from the end of that URL so that it no longer works - I don't want to send anyone there - but here's a screen grab of the page it lands on.

If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you should be able to read the text.

Or you could not bother and just trust me that it is  transparently untrue.

You know the sort of thing. There's a secret system. It always beats the market. You can't lose. And anyone can use it.

And Duncan Bannatyne's found out about it. And one of his friend's has accidentally revealed it. The way you do. And now there have been loads of national TV and newspaper articles about it - you know, you've seen them! Haven't you?

No wonder the establishment is running scared that everyone will find out about it. I mean, it won't be long before everyone's a millionaire.

Anyway... the important detail is that BT knew about this ad on February 9th.

On March 1st I sent Michael and Gavin another email. And this time I also included Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo). The email included a screen grab of this ad that was on Yahoo's home page that day.
That's an ad from businesscasestudies for How Bannatyne Got Rich with the tag line: Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets. The URL it pointed to started with

That's the same ad. With the same wording. Using the same company name. And pointing to the same website.

I also emailed them on March 2nd. Because it was still showing up that day.

I emailed them again this morning. Because it's still showing up today. Same picture. Same words. Same ad.

But it's okay, because we have their statement. So we know that they regularly take action to block ads in violation of their policies, as well as bad actors who work to circumvent their human and automated controls.

It's just that they haven't done so on this advertiser in the 22 days since they first became aware of them.

That's 22 days in which this deceptive and misleading ad appears to have been accepted by Yahoo. But let's not be misled by that evidence of fact. Their statement is more important than the facts before my eyes. The statement makes it perfectly clear: ads like this are unacceptable. It's just that it is, as I type, still accepted.

So that's that sorted.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

At what point does it become okay to say that British Telecom and Yahoo are knowingly profiting from fraud?

If you are against fraud but then find out that you're unwittingly profiting from it... and you could take steps to sever your connection to that fraud immediately... but you choose not to do so... and days - even weeks later - you're still profiting from that fraud... well then, at some point, isn't it fair to reach the conclusion that you're just, y’know, knowingly profiting from fraud?

And if that's the case, in what way are you, y'know, against fraud?

Marissa Mayer May 2014 (cropped)
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who profit from fraud
Photo used under CC licence.
Attrib: By Yahoo from Sunnyvale, California, USA
Gavin Patterson at Chatham House 2016
Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT, who profit from fraud.
Photo used under CC licence, attribution: By Chatham House

At this point, I guess I ought to say that this blog post probably won't make a lot of sense unless you've read my post from a couple of days ago. It's long so I recommend making a cup of tea before you start, but it details how I frequently see BT and Yahoo carrying ads for fraud on their networks and how those ads continue to appear on their networks, often for days after they're reported.

By the way, when I say "fraud" I don't mean "things I don't like" or "products that I think don't work, grrr" I mean actual, criminal, steal-your-money, fraud.

Sometimes, weeks after they've acknowledged an ad is fraudulent, identical ads leading to the very same websites will still be appearing on their networks.

This seems to me to be negligent on their behalf. And as I've been corresponding with the two companies about it since July last year - and with particular frequency throughout February - I don't really see how either entity could claim to be ignorant of their role in enabling these scams to prosper.

This morning, I emailed Michael Todd (Executive Level Technical Complaints, BT), Gavin Patterson (CEO, BT) and Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo) the following few questions:

Question 1: Every time you run one of these ads, you expose your customers to the risk of fraud. Are ads subject to any kind of editorial review before they are accepted on to your network?

Question 2: If ads are subject to editorial review - how did these ads pass? Even allowing for human error, initially - how is it that ads you have been made aware of, continue to get through?

Question 3: It is now abundantly clear that, even after a month of pushing, Yahoo is a) unable to remove ads quickly and b) unable or unwilling to adequately block ads. In which case, do you agree that continuing to run ads through this system means you are now aware that fraudulent ads can and will get through and won't be removed promptly, exposing your customers to harm?

Question 4: BT's CEO has made it very clear that BT people should turn down business when it would force the company to compromise their principles. Does this compromise your principles? Or is there an acceptable amount of fraud that you are happy to expose your customers to?

They seem kind of shy of answering straight questions and have previously expressed a desire for me to not publicise the contents of our interactions thus far... but I don't think these are complicated questions - and I don't think there's anything here for companies of this scale to shy away from.

If they come back to me, I'll let you know what they say.