Wednesday 23 January 2019 6:27 pm

Facebook to invest £3m in targeting spam ads in the UK as Martin Lewis drops lawsuit

Facebook has said it will invest £3m into targeting fraudulent adverts on its UK platform, after reaching a settlement with Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis.

Lewis first launched proceedings against Facebook last year over a series of ads appearing on the website which claimed he had backed several investment schemes. Those schemes later turned out to be fake, and Lewis sued Facebook for reputational damage.

He said he had dropped the lawsuit after working with Facebook to devise new ways of combatting scammers on the platform. 

Facebook said it will donate £3m to Citizens Advice as part of the settlement, which has promised to provide support to scam victims and increase public awareness. The funds will be used to create the Citizens Advice Scam Actions (Casa) project, due to be launched in May this year.

Facebook intends to debut a scam ads reporting tool on its UK website around the same time, enabling users to flag ads that they believe to be fraudulent or in violation of Facebook’s ad policies. An internal team will be set up to monitor and enforce these reports.

“We know zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero occurrence,” Facebook’s northern Europe director Steve Hatch told reporters this morning.

“This is an area we’ve been focused on for a long time… We’ve invested heavily in [our reporting] systems, they’re improving but they’re not perfect.”

Lewis put out a plea to other advertising platforms, namely Google and Yahoo, and policymakers and regulators to work with him and Citizens Advice on the matter.

He added that the £3m donation was “far and above anything I could have won in court”, predicting his final damages would have been closer to between £50,000 and £100,000. However said he would not rule out another lawsuit in the future “if things do not improve”.

A Google spokesperson later said: “Because we want the ads people see on Google to be useful and relevant, we take immediate action to prevent fake and inappropriate ads. We have a tool where anyone can report these ads and these complaints are reviewed manually by our team.”

The firm added that Google had removed 3.2bn ads in 2017, and that the tech giant updates its policy as new threats emerge.

Facebook said it disabled 754m fake accounts in the third quarter of 2018, rising from 583m in the previous quarter. Of the £3m donated to Citizens Advice, £2.5m will be paid out in cash over the next two years and £500,000 will be awarded in advertising credit to spread awareness of the campaign.