Dear Mr. Wygod.
Sorry to take you away from your racehorses, but I tried to go through normal WebMD channels and my e-mails have remained unanswered. Then I tried to find the CEO of WebMD, but there is none. Nor is there a head of advertising or public relations. Therefore I went to the holding company, HLTH Inc, and I could find no-one there who seemed to have a descriptive title ("member of the board of directors" doesn't really cover it). And so I decided in desperation, to address this to you. You are after all, the acting CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, so the buck stops with you.
It's a straightforward question:
Why does WebMD allow filthy scammers to advertise on the site?
What do you mean you don't and it's against your advertising policy? You DO and -maybe you don't know this, because maybe it happened in the lower management echelons, but your advertising policy is specifically designed to allow it to happen. There is a humungous loop hole built right in. So I know HOW you have filthy scammers advertising on WebMD (and I will explain how later for the benefit my other readers who may not have noticed). But please, Mr Wygood, tell me WHY it happens? Do you need the money so badly? Does WebMD get so much money from Yahoo for each "click" a scammer receives through this loophole in policy, that the company would fold without it?
Do you make so much money from supporting scammers that you are willing to risk the reputation of WebMD? Because -trust me, that is what you are doing. All those editors and reviewers. All the medical boards and MDs and other people who work so hard to put out good and accurate content are made to look like idiots because the first link in a search will go to a scam site selling "miracle cures" for serious and fatal illnesses such as Multiple Systems Atrophy. All in total violation of your very excellent advertising policy, which prohibits such practices and which has as a closing statement, the following line
No Advertising will be allowed on the WebMD Network that could injure the good name or reputation of WebMD or the WebMD Site.
You see, There is a little paragraph higher up in the advertising policy that reads like this (excerpt)
"...As described in the "Ads by Yahoo" hyper link in the Ads by Yahoo section on our Search pages, these "Ads by Yahoo" are listings that have been purchased by companies that want to have links to their sites appear adjacent to search results in response to specific terms. WebMD may receive payment from Yahoo in connection with displaying the sponsored link results..."
Sooo. "Ads by Yahoo" is a separate deal, not covered by the advertising policy that prohibits miracle cures or false claims and a bunch of other stuff the scammers do.
Here is the "Ads By Yahoo" policy... -actually it's more of a disclaimer:
"Ads by Yahoo!" are paid advertisements. These advertisements have been purchased by companies that want to have links to their sites appear in WebMD’s search results when you search on specific words or phrases on WebMD. These advertisements are administered, sorted, and maintained by Yahoo! and are displayed on the WebMD site. WebMD may receive payment from Yahoo! when you click on any of these advertisement links. The advertisements have not been reviewed for accuracy, objectivity, or balance by the physicians or editorial staff at WebMD and are not endorsed by either WebMD or Yahoo!
So in theory, I could pay to advertise kiddie porn on WebMD (not that I would) using "Ads By Yahoo", and neither WebMD nor Yahoo would do a darn thing. -OK maybe Kiddie porn is taking it too far because that is overtly, rather than covertly illegal. But I could claim a bogus herbal remedy for ...say Motor Neuron Disease (hello, ALS) that gives "results within Days" and that would be allowed. You think not? Well, here is Exhibit A:
The three circled sites are all scams.
The three circled sites are all scams.
The bottom one; that 'results within days' one that I mentioned? Well, that particular advertisement is from Healing Plants Ltd, a scam operation that was outed before here on OSM. Healing Plants have both direct and indirect advertisements on WebMD. The direct version is seen as an example above (they have around 60 bogus products for different diseases, and yes. Several more of them are on WebMD). The indirect ones are in the form of bogus comparison sites that point people to Healing Plants or to two or three other -even worse- "'guaranteed treatments"; some of which contain strychnine, mercury, arsenic or ground-up hairballs.
...all available a few short clicks away from WebMD. Are you proud to see your life's work exploited so?
Another thing I have found -a little flaw in your site design, is that "Ads by Yahoo!" has a smarter matching engine than you. So if you mistype something, you get no WebMD results, but their ads are all there, nicely listed. Most people will probably just click on the nearest ad, cutting out WebMD altogether.
Mr. Wygod, I have demonstrated using your own text and screenshots that WebMD supports scammers and is paid to do so. I have to ask you out straight: Is this policy deliberate or an oversight? I can't help but think it is deliberate, as the policy was so carefully structured to protect the Yahoo stream; -which is the one on which all the scammers enter WebMD- from your rigid advertising policy. And yet there they are, plain as day, looking for all the world to the casual observer (which most are) as if they are legitimate and endorsed by you.
Now I have to ask, did you know about this policy? I can't believe you did. I can't believe you would allow that to happen. Not because I think you are so wonderful or anything -I don't know you at all (except for what I have read here), but because I think you are a good businessman, and a policy like that on a site like WebMD is simply bad business. It is undermining the entire brand for a series of "clicks" which are probably worth a fraction of a penny apiece. And I know WebMD doesn't get most of its revenue from advertising, anyway. So to jeopardize the entire franchise for the sake of pennies is just dumb.
So this is the situation you have on your hands right now: WebMD is supporting scammers to the following effect:
- It looks like WebMD is endorsing these scam sites and products (and several of my readers who were fooled, actually said it was because the referral site was a legitimate one, such as yours)
- It allows these criminals to make money off of sick and desperate people on the back of (and to the detriment of) WebMD's reputation.
- Some of the products are harmful, so some people may be hurt by them, when they came to WebMD for help. Theoretically, -despite all your disclaimers, WebMD could be open to a lawsuit if this happened.
I am urging you to please put a process in place that performs better due diligence on the type of companies advertising on WebMD through "Ads by Yahoo!" and similar feeds. I can provide a pretty comprehensive list of the scammers I know about (I am sure there are plenty that I have missed). Actually, the lists are here on this site, under the "scams" section, but I can provide it in a better format -in any format you like.
I don't expect a direct answer from you. I didn't get one when I went to customer service, despite the friendly little box that said they would get back to me in two business days, so I know you won't respond. But even if you don't respond you will be responding: Your response will show in the WebMD site. I predict that you will do either one of the following
- Remove all the scam ads
- Leave the "Ads by Yahoo!" feed untouched, but with a more visible disclaimer thereon.
BTW: If you need help identifying the scammers, I was serious in my offer to help. My e-mail is linked on the top left-hand corner of this site.
One Sick Mother