Senacon (National Consumer Secretariat), linked to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, this year initiated five procedures against digital platforms on suspicion of violating consumer rights.
These investigations sought to take down advertisements for false services and products – digital media, posts, messages and advertising –, which could lead to banking or financial fraud.
Senacon’s first initiative against digital platforms sought to take down advertisements that dealt with an alleged recall of credit cards. The procedure, according to the fraudulent advertisement, would allow the redemption of R$3,000. The condition for membership, however, was advance payment and the provision of bank details.
The government body says that the administrative process is still ongoing and the precautionary measure that determined the removal of the advertisements is being complied with.
In August, the ministry approved financing of R$1.9 million for a project to monitor campaigns that affect consumer relations, which will last for one year.
The mapping and collection of information is being carried out by NetLab (Internet and Social Network Studies Laboratory) at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and, according to Senacon, should support public policies to protect consumers “especially on social networks “.
In October, the group delivered a first report to the government detailing how these false advertisements work.
“We point out how harmful actors act in a coordinated way to advertise on digital platforms, appropriating the credibility of these brands to apply scams and cause material and moral damage to Brazilian consumers”, says Marie Santini, director and founder of NetLab.
The data has been collected mainly through Meta’s transparency tool, according to Marie. She states that most of the platforms’ profits today come from advertising and that, unlike what happens on television, print media and billboards, these advertisements cannot be audited.
“Ads, on the contrary, are delivered in an extremely personalized way by opaque algorithmic systems, which work based on profiling [definição de perfis como idade, renda e interesses] and the prediction of user behaviors, exploited by toxic and harmful advertisers”, says Marie.
The model identified by the group is similar to the dynamics of spreading fake news, but in these cases, it affects consumer relations, simulating websites, selling fake products and using these platforms to access personal and banking data.
At least two procedures opened by Senacon this year have already had the support of NetLab (even before the monitoring project was approved).
The first was the one that resulted in the order to remove false advertisements from Desenrola Brasil, a debt renegotiation program headed by the federal government. Meta and Google have been notified; the owner of Facebook and Instagram said that she does not allow fraudulent activities on her platforms.
Google says it maintains robust advertising policies, including banning ads that may confuse users and products and services that encourage dishonest behavior. The platform says that when it identifies a violation, it suspends the advertisement and may block the contractor.
In 2022, Google says it will have removed 5.2 billion ads, 2 billion more than the previous year. In the case of financial services, 198 million ads were removed for violating the policy.
In another request to these platforms, Senacon requested in early November the removal of scam content related to the Voa Brasil program, a program that the federal government has not yet launched. The fake websites were used to steal data and money from victims.
Recently, users of the X network, formerly Twitter, also reported the existence of fake websites sponsored on Google (those that appear first in the search) selling Franuí, a sweet of Argentine origin that went viral on TikTok. Ads and websites were taken down.
In the report sent to Senacon, NetLab says it considers that digital advertising is not transparent. According to the document, 33% of advertisements published on the platforms were negotiated directly with companies. The rest is via agency. This market would be worth R$32.4 billion, says the report, based on data from Kantar Ibope.
NetLab also cites a projection made in 2016 by the WFA (World Advertising Federation), that the percentage of false advertisements worldwide will be between 10% and 30% of the total.
Marie Santini stated that “even after seven years, the information presented in the WFA report remains valid in the sense that it signals a tendency towards the intensification of harmful commercial practices.” In her opinion, “it wouldn’t be a surprise if current rates exceeded predictions made at the time.”
NetLab cannot, however, estimate how much of the Brazilian market would be subject to fraud. A survey of this type, according to the laboratory’s founder, would require a combined effort between researchers, the advertising market, banks and the government.
The laboratory linked to UFRJ says that the ecosystem of “lack of transparency in digital advertising” results in losses for several segments.
According to NetLab, “no one is immune: the images and names of banks, insurance companies, retailers, telecommunications vehicles and public institutions are frequently used in fraudulent advertisements that target vulnerable audiences, consisting of retirees, defaulters, micro-entrepreneurs and housewives, for example. These actions can directly impact the perception that these victims have about these brands, who may believe that they were actually harmed by them.”
Senacon says that current legislation already provides for sanctions in cases that violate consumer rights. “Evidently, future legislative changes may expand and deepen these rights”, stated the secretariat, in a note.