The service, which started in 2016 to give users the chance to trade and sell everyday items, relies heavily on artificial intelligence to scan listings before they go live. But the system often fails to catch scammers and has a network of fake and suspicious accounts targeting buyers and sellers, according to a probe by ProPublica.
In the past year, scammers have exploited Marketplace's lax standards, ending in armed robberies, and in 13 cases, deaths. One of the more famous cases involved a woman who was allegedly killed by a man who was selling a cheap refrigerator.
The social media giant's artificial intelligence systems often miss obvious red flags on problematic behavior, such as fake accounts and stupidly low-priced items. The approximately 400 workers who function as a back-stop to the AI also said their efforts at preventing fraud usually fail.
Moreover, the Marketplace contract workers, who are operated by consulting firm Accenture and are in charge of user complaints and listings display, for years had open access to Facebook Messenger inboxes, which they used to spy on romantic partners and invade user privacy in other manners, according to current and former employees.
Facebook supported itself, doing as much as it can to reduce fraud and scams on the Marketplace, and said that most users had a positive, productive experience.
“All online marketplaces face challenges, and ours is no exception, which is why we’re always working to prevent new ways to scam and defraud people," Drew Pusateri, a Facebook spokesman, said. "Any suggestion that we aren’t trying to solve these complex problems or protect people who use the Marketplace is not only false but misunderstands our entire approach to safety.”
Pusateri added that Accenture contractors working on Marketplace could view Facebook user's Messenger inboxes in the past, but that this power was recently restricted only to messages sent on the Marketplace itself.
Carman Alfonsi relied upon Facebook Marketplace to trade used pool tables for his Michigan billiards business. He banked a steady stream of income from the wildly popular online bazaar.
But this July, Alfonsi’s Facebook account was hacked and used to post roughly 100 scam listings for cell phones and vehicles. The Marketplace posts directed buyers to contact an email address controlled by the scammers. When consumers were left empty-handed, they sent angered messages to Alfonsi by phone and Facebook Messenger.