In early September, we spotted something funny: X wasn’t labeling all of its ads. The Federal Trade Commission is kinda picky about that, so we put out the call for more examples. And boy howdy, the community responded big time with hundreds of unlabeled ads.
This gave us the ammo to build our case to the FTC and demand X be investigated — and fork over its ill-gotten advertising gains — because not marking ads is no small thing. As the complaint points out, unlabeled ads could trick users into thinking content is organic, increasing the chance for scams. (You can read the full complaint here.)
It also leaves people unaware and unsuspecting. They have no way to know they’re being targeted in the first place! And it’s not great for advertisers, either, exposing them to legal risk and potentially hurting their reputations.
Making all this worse, X is set up to explain why you’re seeing an ad with a hyperlink — but those are frequently broken when they are shown.
"X Corp.’s lack of disclosures to consumers, misrepresentations to advertisers, and flawed access to explanations about targeted advertising constitute unfair and deceptive practices,“ said Check My Ads’ Policy Director Sarah Kay Wiley. “We urge the Commission to determine the extent of these violations and address them to the full extent of its authority."
The issue of unlabeled ads exploded after X lost a significant chunk of its advertising revenue (Musk publicly confirmed ads revenue was down 60%). Where ads once had the word “promoted” below them, they now have a smaller “ad” label next to a menu in the top right of tweets — but not all the time.
People have even spotted unlabeled clickbait ads that you can’t even block or report.
It’s just another example of why X isn’t brand safe under Musk’s leadership. He created a system that encourages toxicity, giving a chunk of ad revenue to some of the platform’s worst actors. And after direct advertisers have fled, X has has now turned to filling the void and empty platform space with programmatic ads placed by Google and InMobi. This makes labeling even more important as programmatic ads are notoriously scammy - think the ads you see at the bottom of news sites. X has also announced that it will allow political ads on the platform again, for the first time since 2019.
For the good of consumers and advertisers alike, we’re asking the FTC to:
Thank you again to everyone who submitted unlabeled ads; this complaint exists because we exercised our voices. And if you want to keep helping the effort to bring transparency to adtech and shut down bad actors, consider becoming a Checkmate through a recurring donation.
We can’t wait to hear what the FTC has to say.
Claire & Nandini