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Facebook Facing Litigation Over Deceptive Advertisments

Everybody is playing Facebook games it seems. Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Vampires are examples of some of the interactive games available on the Facebook network. Often, messages appear on your Facebook page, telling you that you can get free poker chips or game credits for just clicking on an advertisement. Beware! According to the plaintiff in a potential class action suit against Facebook and game provider Zynga, these "free" offers end up costing users money that, when totaled, exceeds $5 million.

The problem is that these "free" offers often require a user to give personal information or agree to subscriptions that, while they can be canceled at any time, turn out to be extremely difficult to cancel. The plaintiff in the lawsuit alleges that she agreed to a "risk-free" trial subscription to an herbal tea supplement program. Before she was finally allowed to cancel, she had been charged more than $165. Others have complained of an IQ test that requires users to provide their cell phone number. The users then found they had been billed for a text-messaging service.

The basis for the lawsuit is that some of the offers provided with the games result in unauthorized charges or enrollment in subscription services without the user's knowledge or permission. The lawsuit claims that more than 100,000 users have been victimized by these practices. Facebook has denied any involvement in the placing of these ads and further denied receiving any profits from them. A Facebook spokesperson stated that the ads were not Facebook's but appeared in third-party applications on the Facebook site.

Zynga, which actually provides the games, does not have this defense. The company has stated that it will no longer allow these types of ads in its games. The fact that the ads were allowed in the first place might be explained by an embarrassing video of Zynga's president on YouTube. In the video, he stated that when he started the company, one method of obtaining revenue was to offer users free poker chips for games if they downloaded a toolbar, which was difficult to get rid of. He described this as one of the "horrible" things he did to get revenue right away.

The lawsuit still needs to clear the hurdle of certification as a class action suit. In the meantime, it pays to be wary of "free" online offers.