There are nearly three billion Facebook accounts. This is unsurprising, given that an account, entirely free of charge, gives the holder a website for photographs and comments, together with the ability to establish groups of friends for the mutual exchange of news, pictures, videos, gossip, and to sell product.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The quid pro quo for this apparently ‘free’ resource, is that Facebook will advertise, targeting advertisements at individual accounts based on their response to previous advertising. Over time a profile is built up, significantly improving hit rate. Advertising is the source of Facebook’s revenue, and is what pays for the administration of the company as well as the acres of cloud storage that support the nearly three billion accounts. It is also why Mark Zuckerberg is currently worth around $131,800,000,000.
There is nothing wrong with advertising per se; it is one of the cornerstones of capitalist economics. But I think that we, the users, are entitled to some protection against the unscrupulous advertisers on Facebook who set out, quite deliberately, to sell the public a pig in a poke. Quite frequently, I get on my Facebook feed advertisements for products at absurdly low prices. Recent examples are a tool kit, a very sophisticated drone, a beautifully produced model of an eighteenth century sailing ship, a large wooden scissors jack, and a wonderfully detailed model of an internal combustion engine. The prices for these products are anything between one fifth and one twentieth of what they are clearly worth. A few weeks ago, ignoring the old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, I fell victim.
The product in question was a high-tech redesign of the classic shooting stick—a walking stick that converted into a three-legged chair. It was absolutely ideal for my needs. The advertisement was accompanied by an impressive video showing said walking stick in action. The price was £25... A click took me to the vendor’s website. It gave a London trading address, with an email address for customer service and a telephone number for complaints, and informed me that the product would be shipped from China. I placed my order, and some days later was informed by the Post Office that a package for me had been received from China.
The parcel arrived within two weeks of ordering. I thought it looked small, and on opening it found not my high-tech walking stick, but a small three-legged folding stool of a size appropriate for a child of five or six years old. I immediately sent an email to customer service, attaching a copy of the order acknowledgement clearly showing an illustration of what I had purchased as well as a photograph of what had been sent. After three days the email server informed me that the message was not delivered because the addressee did not exist. A telephone call to the complaints number gave me another email address via a recorded message; an email to that address resulted in the same non-existence of the addressee. On investigating the London trading address, I discovered it to be an empty building currently being refurbished. A google search of the product I had been trying to purchase—which I should have done first—showed it to be available from several reputable UK suppliers, at a cost of around £130... Realizing that I had been conned, I contacted the credit card company. They sent me a very simple form to fill in, and shortly thereafter refunded my money.
I continue to receive scam advertising on Facebook and apparently I am very much not alone, as a simple Google search will confirm. What I cannot understand, is why Facebook allow this. The one thing this experience has taught me is that I will NEVER purchase anything ever again via Facebook—potential advertisers take note. Why should I trust it? I have lost count of the number of times that I have reported these adverts as scams to Facebook, but they keep coming. Just like spam emails, the company names keep changing, and Facebook does nothing; it even has the gall in one of the so-called help messages to warn of scams from its advertising! A tweet to Nick Clegg on this subject, unsurprisingly, has gone unanswered. Caveat emptor!
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs