A 'Contrite' Facebook Refunds Advertisers, Who Still Want Oversight

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Facebook caught its own accounting error, but advertisers said it still shows the need for independent measurement.
Facebook caught its own accounting error, but advertisers said it still shows the need for independent measurement. Credit: Facebook

It wasn't much of a refund. But in this case it might be the thought that counts.

Facebook is cutting checks to advertisers after it found a flaw in the way it measures certain video. It's the first time Facebook has been public about a problem measuring ads that involved billing since it started disclosing such reporting errors last year. Previously the discrepancies affected unpaid posts.

Facebook said it found that over a period of about a year it had miscounted a specific type of video ad on its mobile website -- not in its app, where most people and brands use the social network.

Facebook had sometimes charged advertisers when users tapped to expand their videos for full-screen viewing, the company said. It was supposed to charge them only when people tapped a link to the marketers' sites.

"Given that this bug related to mobile web for smartphones only, and specifically for video carousel ads that bid on link clicks, the impact from a billing perspective was 0.04% of ads impressions," Facebook said in a blog post this week disclosing the error. "Regardless of how many impressions were affected, we take all bugs seriously and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused."

One advertiser said Facebook reached out with a "very contrite e-mail" and issued a refund of a few thousand dollars. Other advertisers could be eligible for as little as $20, but it wasn't just the money that was important.

"It's just another little chink in the concrete of their walled garden," the advertiser said. "And it's an additional reason why they need to be compliant with third parties to measure them."

Facebook, and the entire digital marketplace, has been under pressure to show its work, reveal how it calculates ad views and verify those methods through third parties. Last year, advertisers grew more forceful in those demands after Facebook discovered that it had been inflating some of its video viewing numbers on unpaid posts by brands and publishers.

The make-goods are micro-payments compared to Facebook's other big repayment news this week. The social network is paying $122 million to settle with the European Union, a fine brought on by its $19 billion WhatsApp acquisition. Europe was not pleased with how Facebook was handling the private data of WhatsApp users since the purchase.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and others are now cooperating more with third-party measurement firms like Moat, Integral Ad Science and Double Verify. However, Facebook uncovered its own mistake this time, and an outside audit might not have even spotted it.

With its latest disclosure, Facebook is demonstrating its willingness to be transparent by making public even the smallest of glitches. That's a plus for CMOs like Keith Weed of Unilever, which has been one of those big-spending brands asking for accountability in the marketplace.

"Facebook and Google are companies striving to do the very best they can," Weed said. "If we are going to buy media off them, like TV, like networks, like newspapers, I want to know that someone is doing third-party verification, because this is a market of billions of dollars."

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