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The Dangers of Facebook’s New Ad Display URLS

Inside Facebook and All Facebook are both reporting that Facebook is planning on introducing a new tool to their advertising platform to help protect users and increase transparency. Unfortunately, this new tool could actually have the exact opposite effect by making Facebook ads even more dangerous to click on.

What it Does

Image Source: Inside Facebook

Image Source: Inside Facebook

The change is actually very simple. If an ad directs you to a destination outside Facebook, it will display the ad’s destination URL by placing that URL in a prominent location just below the headline and above the ad’s image (see picture). The idea is that you will now know exactly where you will be sent if you click on that ad. It’s a new layer of protection, right?


What’s the Risk?

The risk is that it’s ridiculously easy to dupe the user. How? Because while you may indeed be sent to the URL being displayed, Facebook has not indicated that they are doing anything to validate that the destination itself is safe.

But how could the destination not be safe if Facebook is showing me where I’m going?

Here are two likely scenarios that someone with malicious intent could set up in minutes. In both scenarios, you see an ad on Facebook with the URL You click on it. This is what could happen:

1)      The site you arrive at injects malware into your computer or does other evil things.

2)      The site you arrive at immediately redirects you to yet another website that could inject malware into your computer or do other evil things.

Certainly Facebook could, and should, add some sort of ongoing validation service to investigate these destinations. I say ongoing because it would be simple for the “advertiser” to set up a benign site that could revert into a malicious site as soon as validation is completed.

While I applaud Facebook for their attempt to protect users, they certainly have not thought things through. Until then, Clickers Beware!

What do you think? Let me know in the Comments.

About the Author

Neal WiserHi, I’m Neal Wiser, President of Neal Wiser Consulting. I have 15+ years experience in the Interactive Marketing, Technology and Entertainment industries. My consulting practice is focused on maximizing results for both large and small clients ranging from Government and the Fortune 500 to small, “Mom & Pop” businesses. My clients have included Comcast, USPS, Hyundai, DreamWorks Studios, MLB, 20+ pharmaceutical brands & NASA. Click About Me to learn more. You can also connect with me via on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook). And please don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter (Click Here).View all posts by Neal Wiser →


  1. Nick S.
    Nick S.09-29-2010

    I understand your point, but this issue existed before display URLs were added, right? So the risk hasn’t increased or decreased, it’s the same as it was before this enhancement. This isn’t an issue of Facebook not thinking things through, as you write, it’s just Facebook taking a step toward improved transparency, and I think we should be happy about it.

    Would you be happier if they hadn’t added this feature? Just food for thought. I’m not picking a fight. Thanks for the post, it got me thinking…

  2. nealwiser

    Hi Nick, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. While you are correct that the risk has always been there, my point is that Facebook is creating a false sense of security. By listing the URL, the user may ultimately assume that the destination is safe and is more likely to click, thus increasing risk to the user (and generating more revenue for Facebook).

  3. The Dangers of Facebook’s New Ad Display URLS « The ODM Group
    The Dangers of Facebook’s New Ad Display URLS « The ODM Group01-28-2011

    […] This post by Neal Wiser (ODM’s Vice President, Digital Strategy & Operations) originally appeared on his blog, […]

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