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In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has certainly encountered challenges when it comes to how its ads are targeted to its users. But while the issue usually revolves around how personal user data is harvested from the social network and then surgically aimed at specifically vulnerable users, a recently settled court case in the UK is about a different problem: People in these ads being misrepresented, possibly to the point of defamation.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, began a lawsuit against Facebook in 2018, alleging that ads were appearing on the site that implied an endorsement from him, when there was actually no connection between him and the product. Lewis asserted that these products were not the kind that he would ever endorse, so Facebook was potentially on the hook for these false representations.

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MoneySavingExpert (MSE) is a UK-oriented website in the vein of Consumer Reports, but with an emphasis on personal finance and investment planning.

Instead of suing Facebook for millions of dollars, though, Lewis declared at the start that any money received as a result of the suit would go directly to charity. Specifically, charities that help people recover from financial scams. This eventually led to a negotiated settlement with Facebook where the social network would donate $3.9 million to a new Scams Action project for Citizens Advice.

Citizens Advice is an independently operating nonprofit that operates similarly to Consumer Reports, focusing on issues specific to the UK. With these new funds, its Scams Action project starting in May will be able to directly help individuals who have been scammed, create online tools for them to spot scams, and raise awareness so that people can protect themselves better to begin with.

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One online tool in particular will get plugged right into Facebook, although the feature will be limited to the UK version: a function for the social network's users to report a suspicious-looking ad to Facebook, who will now have a team dedicated to investigating these reports and taking the appropriate actions.

Lewis told MSE, "The amount being donated to set up the Citizens Advice scams action project is far above anything I could've won, had I succeeded in a court. In fact, we believe the amount Facebook is donating is substantially bigger than the biggest-ever UK court settlement for defamation."

Takeaways

  • A UK lawsuit against Facebook has led to the addition of a new tool for users to report suspicious-looking ads to the social network, which will now have a team dedicated to investigating these reports.
  • In addition, $3.9 million will be donated to an anti-scam project to be operated by Citizens Advice, which is like a UK version of Consumer Reports.
  • The lawsuit was initiated by Martin Lewis, founder of consumer financial news site MoneySavingExpert.com; he alleged that Facebook ran ads containing fraudulent product endorsements from him.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.