Wash. AG alleges 'clickjacking' on Facebook

By Bryan Cohen | Jan 26, 2012


SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Facebook announced lawsuits on Thursday against the co-owners of an ad network that allegedly developed scams and encouraged others to spread spam through various deceptive tactics.

Adscend Media LLC allegedly used misleading methods such as "clickjacking" to spread scams from user to user on the popular social media site, Facebook. McKenna and Facebook each filed separate lawsuits against Adscend and its owners.

"We don't 'like' schemes that illegally trick Facebook users into giving up personal information or paying for unwanted subscription services through spam," McKenna said.

"We applaud Facebook for devoting significant technical and legal resources to finding and stopping scams as soon as possible - and often before they even start. We're proud to join forces in order to protect Washington consumers."

McKenna and Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel, emphasized during a press conference that by partnering together they can send a strong message that scammers and spammers are not welcome on Facebook.

"Security is an arms race, and that's why Facebook is committed to constantly improving our consumer safeguards while pursuing and supporting civil and criminal consequences for bad actors," Ullyot said.

Scammers design pages on Facebook that look like they will offer visitors a chance to view provocative or salacious content, the two say. The designers condition viewing this content on taking part in a series of steps that are made to lure Facebook users into eventually visiting other websites, they say. These sites frequently deceive the visitors into surrendering their personal information or signing up for pricy mobile subscription services, they say.

Users of Facebook are first encouraged to click the "like" button on the scammers' Facebook pages, alerting their friends to the existence of the page, they say. The users are then told that they cannot view the content unless they complete an advertising offer or online survey, they say.

In most cases, the promised content does actually exist and the tricked user is then aimed through a series of prompts that take them off of Facebook and through a series of unrelated subscription service and advertising offers, they say. The scammers receive money for each user misdirected through the offers.

In some instances, users of Facebook don't even need to click the "like" button to spread the spam through their Facebook pages. In a process referred to as "clickjacking," a hidden code in tempting links activates Facebook's "like" function and puts it on the news feeds of the users' friends, they say.

McKenna's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle against the Delaware-based Adscend and co-owners Fehzan Ali of Austin, Texas, and Jeremy Bash of Huntington, W.Va. The lawsuit alleges violations of Washington's Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits deceptive and unfair business practices, the Commercial Electronic Mail Act, which prohibits obscuring or misrepresenting any information in identifying the transmission path or the point of origin of a commercial electronic message, and the CAN-SPAM Act, which makes it illegal to initiate or procure the transmission of misleading commercial electronic communications.

McKenna's office is requesting damages, for the defendants to be enjoined from future violations, and civil penalties, costs and fees.

Facebook's separate, similar lawsuit against Adscend and its owners was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California.

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