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Facebook profits from dubious ads

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Facebook bombards cancer patients with ads for more than dubious treatments and makes a ton of money for it

Once again, Facebook is the subject of controversy for displaying ads that promise miracle cures or unproven treatments for serious diseases. The MIT Technology Review blog, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, exposed this situation after analyzing the content of multiple advertisements that frequently appear on the social network, in which private clinics promise to “kill cancer” with alternative methods.

The report puts the spotlight on two institutions: CHIPSA Hospital and Verita Life. The former promotes itself as “the original Gerson Therapy hospital” and is located in Tijuana, Mexico; the latter presents itself on its website as a “German clinic for integrative cancer medicine,” with a presence in Thailand and Mexico.

Both use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach potential patients, leveraging the Meta platforms’ collection of browsing data. According to MIT Technology Review, anyone who has searched the web for cancer treatments from the United States has likely seen at least one of the 20 or more advertisements that clinics of this type use.

As for CHIPSA Hospital, the report mentions the case of an ad touting the use of Apatone to fight cancer. “We are fighting a losing battle. But now we have new hope. The combination of intravenous vitamin C and K3 in a 100:1 ratio known as Apatone. This specific combination causes a form of cell necrosis called autoschizis…it is KILLING cancer,” the promoted Facebook post says.

Apatone is not approved for use in the United States and so people wishing to undergo the treatment have to go to Mexico. MIT Technology Review quotes Skyler Johnson, a researcher at the University of Utah, who mentions that preclinical studies have shown “some effects against cancer”; but he maintains that they are inferior to the conventional treatments already used against the disease and the contrary has not been demonstrated.

In the case of Verita Life, Facebook ads promote the use of hyperthermia -which requires applying heat above 40 degrees to the tumor area- as a cure for cancer. The company claims that this method can destroy cancer cells without damaging the healthy tissue around them. This is misleading to say the least. While hyperthermia is used on cancer patients, it is not widely accepted; and those who do use it often do so as a complementary method to conventional treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

According to the report, several of the advertisements published by these clinics have been denounced and removed by Facebook. The social network itself acknowledged having removed them for violating its policy on misleading claims, which prohibits those that claim to “cure incurable diseases”. Among them, that of the use of Apatone. However, the measure is inconsistent and does not apply to all.

On both Facebook and Instagram, the ad review process is mostly automated. This leads to many advertisements passing the initial filter, despite the strict guidelines that Meta ensures must be met. And it also happens that many companies that have their ads taken down successfully upload them again a few months later.

In fact, it has already been shown in the past that Mark Zuckerberg’s company’s methods for moderating ads is far from infallible. In April 2021, an Australian organization proved that it was possible to create advertisements for alcohol, gambling and vaping, and target them to children between the ages of 13 and 17.

And while Facebook has tried to change its ad platform to no longer show ads based on categories like “chemotherapy” or “religious beliefs,” it’s clearly not working. And it’s no surprise that it is; after all, internal documents have proven that the company doesn’t really know how much data it collects from its millions of users, nor does it know where it is, where it’s going or who is using it. And while Zuckerberg looks the other way, the cash register keeps ringing.

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