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Duo hosting scam ads!

How and where (apart from here) do I report this?

I keep seeing ads for a scheme called Bitcoin Trader, which falsely claim it is endorsed by trusted UK consumer advocate, Martin Lewis. They even say he recommends ditching more conventional investments, and doing this instead.


Martin declares himself sickened by this unauthorised use of his name to promote a scam. https://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2018/03/martin-lewis-spread-word-dont-believe-scam-bitcoin-code-bitcoin-trading-ads/

It is damaging to the reputation of Duolingo to be hosting ads like this.

It's particularly distasteful as this is an educational website, which attracts a lot of young people. If they see it here, they're going to assume it's safe, and has been vetted.

To protect vulnerable individuals, AND the reputation of Duolingo, can we get this rubbish removed?

July 18, 2019



Please report this to abuse (see How do I report an ad?).


There was also someone claiming to be a hacker, who would "do stuff" for you. This came in the form of a Duo email.


Was it an email from Duolingo, or an email spoofed to look as if it came from Duolingo? The two are very different things. The email system was not designed with any meaningful level of security. When people have tried to add secure layers on top of it, they've always had to deal with systems that expect the insecure mail formats. This is an internet-wide problem, not a Duolingo problem. If you're outside the email system which your employer pays your IT department to secure, just assume that all emails are lies, and check their individual contents. Often you'll be wrong, but you have got to check, always. Until someone designs a new email system from the ground up, this is always going to be the case. In over 40 years of knowing about this problem, none of the many proposed systems has succeeded.


It is the curse of GoogleAds. Google helps a site with revenue and services, then sits back and puts the pressure on when an organisation becomes complacent and dependent upon Google.

Google can easily stop inappropriate ads without losing ad revenue, but they choose not to, preferring to use it as a lever over the host organisation.

It is quite deliberate, and tantamount to a protection racket.


Google can easily stop inappropriate ads without losing ad revenue, but they choose not to

Google vets ads using AI. The sheer scale of Google ads is enormous; I doubt that Google could switch to using humans to do this even if it wanted to—this would simply require an infeasibly-huge number of extra employees. The vetting AI doesn't let scams through because it has been purposely designed to do so, but because the scammers are forever finding new ways to get past it. As they continue doing this, so the AI will gradually improve.

I am no fan of Google whatsoever, but there is no conspiracy on Google's part to allow scamming advertisements, thus tarnishing the reputation of the most important part of its business model.


You are the only person using the term "conspiracy" here.

I did not say that google's tactics are illegal, or even a secret.

If an organisation does not "need" google, then google can, and does, use ads from a select group of providers, who are themselves careful about the ads which they provide.

When an organisation "needs" google, then google may be less fussy about the providers, but may agree to be more fussy for the price of more control/access.

There is nothing illegal about that - it is simply google offering a premium service, either to hold onto or gain an indifferent client, or to try to extract more from a "captive" client.


Duo has limited control about which adverts are displayed. I believe that is GoogleAdds which provide them so all you can do is to inform Duo in a bug report and hope they are able to stop the ad.

Meanwhile, you could keep repeating this warning on these forums and hope no one gets scammed by them.


Haha - it may already have got pulled - albeit not by Duolingo. I just saw it again, and clicked through, but now it no longer leads to the fake Martin Lewis endorsements, or to any mention of the product, but just goes to the ad agency's home site. So somebody has made them take it down? It's still appearing here, but the immediate danger is removed, as clicking doesn't lead to the scambait anymore.


Although I can understand your reaction and in no way endorse the way this ad abuses somebody’s good reputation, false advertising is all around us. Actually, most advertising contains some unproven statements or outright lies. Everyone exposed to advertisment (i.e. all of us) needs to be aware of that and not trust any ad or buy any advertised product without doing their homework.

And regarding children/young people using DL: They would not have the money or the interest in investment schemes.

Any responsible parent/guardian/teacher should teach children and young adults to not believe anything an ad says, how to do online research in order to verify certain statements (e.g. consumer reports/reviews) and/or how to identify reliable sources, and best to ignore ads.

I personally don’t see it as Duolingo’s responsibility to vet ads. Of anything, it should be the responsibility of the source providing the ads. It is great that DL offers the option to report unsuitable ads. But the ads on DL are only a fraction of advertising each of us is exposed to every day. So ultimately, it’s our own responsibility to choose how we interact with ads and to teach others how to do so.


If you click on the triangle next to the "X" on the ad (website) you will see that it is provided by google. This also offers you the option of "stop seeing this ad". The other option is "why this ad". That will give you the option to report it as a "bad ad"


(I only very rarely use the website ; this is based on other systems I use more often.) Most likely that information - along with sufficient personal information (email, user name, IP address ; the details depend on Duolingo's contract with Google or whoever) is sent to Google, who update their profile of you, not what they send to other Duolingo users. Duo probably don't see the fact that you've objected to an advert.


good to know :)


I usually ignore the ads as they occupy a very small space. One I have now is "Pay Pal...Curb cart abandonment". When I was in Vietnam on a Vietnam server, I did pay attention to the ads as they were in Vietnamese so that offered me an extra added educational opportunity.


I wasn't complaining about the annoyance to me personally, as luckily, I already know it is a scam, and wouldn't have got caught. But it all looks and sounds very legitimate, even "quoting" from (fictitious) interviews Lewis is said to have given to newspapers and TV, in which he recommends this method. Lots of people in the UK recognize Martin Lewis, and would think that if it's recommended by him, it must be really safe. How many people bother to Google the newspapers or TV show to check whether he really ever said this? :(


I automatically assume all ads lie. Or they use psychological manipulation. And most target people in a predatory way. A government ad sent to me via official agency email promised information about my military service and one of the few times I failed to research the service. I discovered after signing up there was no way to delete my account. So I changed my account name to Lt General Scheisskopf, a character in Slaughterhouse 5.

Edit: Now I see an ad in Spanish. I await one in Mandarin or Arabic...


"I automatically assume all ads lie. Or they use psychological manipulation. And most target people in a predatory way." These are synonyms. And yes, all adverts do this. It is what "advert" means.


A fair point. However media = entertainment. For profit. People know this, don't they ?

I've clicked through to some ads I'm mildly interested in. When those were apps, I read the reviews. Always read the reviews on Google Play Store. I didn't even bother to download any apps that were making false claims. I thank the people who did take the time to post a brief review explaining where some product didn't meet their expectations or requirements. It saves others being disappointed or out of pocket. I couldn't care less about likes or hit rates. I prefer a decent review that specifically says: I expected A, B, C. Had to pay for C. B lacked audio. A is great for visual learners like me.

Decent reviews like that tell me at a glance what I might miss or not miss.


Hmmm, I've never seen a non-English advert on Duolingo. Then again, when I'm abroad, I'm working and don't have personal bandwidth.


Technically, Duolingo DOES have control over the ads that appear on their site. How? They choose to utilize Google Ads. They could choose to NOT use Google Ads or any other ad serving platform. They could choose to pay a team of advertising reps to sell ads on their web site and in that way they'd have complete guaranteed control over what appears on their site.

So, Duo's not a victim here. They volunteered to use Google Ads, and I'm pretty sure they know that using the service means scammy ads will sneak through every now and then since Google doesn't really give a squat so long as they get their money.

Yes, Duolingo has the ability to blacklist ads and domains and I'm sure they try to keep on it within reason - but I can tell you it would be a full-time job keeping on top of all the new scams and domains that crop up daily.

Long and short of it, Duo is cutting corners utilizing Google Ads - but what services would we lose as users if they forked out the cash to hire an advertising team and/or pay a team of people to monitor their ads all day every day? That money would likely get moved away from development, etc.

There's sacrifices being made, absolutely, to provide this as a free service to users.

Here's the deal, however, no one's holding a gun to anyone's head here and forcing them to use this web product (at least, jeez, I hope not!!) If children are using this platform, then their parents should be monitoring their use. For the rest of us adults, we can either cease to use Duolingo, or pay for their upgraded package, or live with the ads, or get an ad blocker (yeah, I know, Duo won't appreciate that last suggestion.)


They could choose to pay a team of advertising reps to sell ads

but I can tell you it would be a full-time job keeping on top of all the new scams and domains that crop up daily.

Wait so you want to pul money fro-

That money would likely get moved away from development, etc.

Nevermind you raised my point for me. This is not a solution, it's a pipe dream. All over a single ad that got through. There is a reason Google ads is so popular. Hiring a team to cultivate ads is just a waste of time and especially resources, considering how little scammy ads get through. I almost feel bad because I often raise the point that Duolingo isn't run by a homeless college student but jeez some people seem to believe Duolingo is run by a Billionaire with a bottomless budget bin.


they use google ads. Every website does. they don't choose the ads.

and the ads in google are based on your search history, so if you see anything about bitcoin you have searched for it before, or things related to them.

search: how google ads work


Thanks anyway for the lecture, but I know how Google ads work, and that is why I have personalised ad targeting based on search history disabled. So no, this doesn't reflect an interest of mine. Also, whilst they may not choose the ads, it's not the case that Duo has no control over what appears - as evidenced by Trofaste's helpful post about how to report it - which I'll now do - but hampered by the fact I need to wait for it to appear again to grab the screenshot. Of course, it never appears when you actually want it to!


Tina. You're wise to raise this. The bitcoin scams go deep, my own threats were dealt with by the police.


Thank you!!! There's one smart person! here's a lingot.


definitely report this.


Bitcoin itself is a scam. DO NOT BUY BITCOIN. Look up Mt Gox. It is backed by no government/exchange commission in the world. It keeps suddenly crashing as all funds are taken out - and taken off with. There is no recourse because it is backed by nobody. Thousands of people have lost millions now as people keep buying and pushing it up and the it suddenly records a gigantic loss and takes all the funds out, rinse repeat. It gave us block chain encryption (then breached itself repeatedly.) It's true value was the block chain encryption which is now used with reputable markets.


Something needs to be done.


I have this to! DL is hosting scam adds for me too.


Sadly scammers are everywhere now. All we can do is keep bringing it to light, just as you have done, hope Duolingo take the hint.


Yes I want the ads to be removed especially that one


I'm with you on this. Get rid of those ads!

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