Report: Controversial gov’t agency spent millions on ads in Newsweek — which was faking its traffic

Report: Controversial gov’t agency spent millions on ads in Newsweek — which was faking its traffic
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks to the media on Jan. 20 during a briefing on the government shutdown, in the Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Mulvaney is the acting chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Cheriss May/NurPhoto)

The Newsweek Media Group secured a huge ad campaign buy from the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after boosting its numbers by purchasing fraudulent online traffic for its websites, according to a report released Thursday.

What’s the story?

The Newsweek Media Group publishes a number of sites, most notably Newsweek and the International Business Times.

In 2017, IBTimes.com won a large ad campaign for the CFPB.

The CFPB spent millions on online ads providing information to customers about their rights regarding college tuition and home loans. Many of those ads ran on IBTimes.com and Newsweek, as well as CNN and Business Insider.

Social Puncher, an organization that investigates advertising fraud, discovered that the audience “viewing” the CFPB’s ads on IBT was coming from cheap, purchased traffic.

This “junk traffic” comes from pop-up or pop-under browser windows that appear for users who are on illegal file sharing or pirated video streaming sites. Because many of these ads open behind the main window or on separate tabs, the user may never actually view the content even though it technically counts as a page view.

What does Newsweek Media Group say?

NMG admitted to purchasing traffic, but said the traffic is only a small percentage of their overall page views.

“We use third-party platforms to verify and filter this traffic to ensure it is of the highest quality,” the company said in a statement. “This verification process prevents poor-quality traffic being redirected to our sites and we consistently score highly on various third-party ad verification platforms.”

How did the CFPB respond?

“We take the allegations of fraud very seriously,” a spokesperson said. “Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is actively looking into the work done by the GMMB (an ad agency the CFPB contracts with) and these allegations [of fraud by IBTimes.com] will be investigated as part of that process.”

The CFPB has been frequently criticized by President Donald Trump and other Republicans, including Mulvaney himself — who raised eyebrows when he submitted a quarterly budget request for the agency of zero dollars for the first quarter of 2018. GMMB, which the CFPB has awarded more than $40 million in contracts to, is considered a top Democratic media strategist.