A newly public court filing alleges Facebook misled advertisers by withholding accurate metrics on how much time users really spent watching video ads, thereby inducing advertisers into spending more money running commercials that no one was watching.
The allegation is part of a lawsuit, LLE One LLC et al. v. Facebook, that was initially filed two years ago but first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal. It claims that, in 2016, Facebook drastically inflated its viewing metrics, some by as much as 900 percent, but told its advertising partners that it had only overestimated the viewing metrics by up to 80 percent.
If you missed it: today it was confirmed that Facebook massively & knowingly inflated its video-view statistics, which had the DIRECT consequence of 90% of media orgs firing writers in favor of expensive video producers, who also got fired when it turned out video was worthless https://t.co/WqdAUBIe6L
— Chris Conroy (@dyfl) October 17, 2018
“Even once it was decided to take action on the metrics, Facebook did not promptly fix its calculation or disclose that the calculation was wrong,” the complaint read. “Instead it continued reporting miscalculated viewership metrics for another several months, as it developed a ‘no PR’ strategy to avoid drawing attention to the error.”
Facebook, for its part, says that it moved quickly to correct the error when it spotted it in August 2016, and says that the current lawsuit is without merit.
The mishandling of the viewership metrics coincides with a period in which many media companies were “pivoting to video” in an attempt to increase profitability. In practice, this often meant laying off writers and journalists at the expense of video producers, and attempting to shoehorn their products into the same advertising ecosystem whose profitability Facebook had enormously inflated. Since 2018, the company has been actively advising companies not to pivot to video.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that Facebook has been slow to address a critical issue. Whether it’s belatedly taking action against the Myanmar military 10 months after it began using Facebook to spread hate speech, initially hiding the true number of Americans exposed to Russian disinformation, or not initially acknowledging that 87 million people had their data harvested by Cambridge Analytica, Facebook’s repeated desire to sweep problems under its internal rug has led to repeated instances of serious external blundering.
It also emerged Tuesday that Facebook’s voice-activated speaker system, Portal — similar in function to the Amazon Echo Show and the Google Home Hub — can be used to target you with ads, collecting data about the different people you’ve spoken to and the topics you’ve discussed. This is despite Facebook executives re-assuring the press during the product’s launch that data collected via Portal would not be used to target users with ads.