FarmVille, Zygna trick gamers into expensive subscriptions

It sounds like a good deal; take a quick quiz and get some free virtual currency or trade your phone number, trade your phone number for your horoscope or even access to "thousands of TV Shows." These are what many users are finding after clicking the ads in mobile games on the iPhone and Android powered cell phones. But they don't just get their horoscope, they end up with a monthly subscription for between $9.99 and $25.

These types of ads first entered the spotlight last year when it came to light that many Facebook gamers where signing up for similar offers in exchange for game currency for popular games such as FarmVille and others from Zynga. Numerous parties involved vowed to clean up the process and prevent these types of ads from reaching consumers on Facebook, which has just diverted its attention to ad-supported mobile games.

On of the biggest offenders is Admob, a mobile ad company owned by Google, which is serving ads in many popular games for daily horoscopes, IQ quiz tests and free TV shows. In order to access the actual horoscope, TV shows and test results users need to share their cell phone number.

In theory this information is needed to send you the results, but in practice, and in the fine print, it is needed to sign you up for an expensive monthly text message subscription service. TechCrunch reports that in addition the misleading SMS subscription ads appearing on Admob have also been spotted on the Offerpal Media network.

These types of misleading ads aren't new, they are the same ads we've seen in many other forms of media, advertisers are simply moving on to the next medium, mobile games, which through a lack of fail safes, or greed, allow these ads through on a regular basis.

It's true that these ads, thanks to their fine print, aren't illegal, but at the very least they are a prime example of ethics being thrown out the window in the search for a fast buck. By failing to police its ad networks for these types of misleading and expensive ads, Google is failing to "not be evil," something stockholders should be sure to note.

While it is easy to give the advertising network a break and blame the users who often times don't read the fine print, there comes a time when companies need to weigh their decisions based on the public good instead of just their private gains. Hopefully the industry can regulate these ads before the mobile marketplace is overrun with these ads, which over time will make users much less likely to click mobile ads and threaten the widespread availability of ad-supported free and cheap games.
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