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Internet firms are failing to tackle illicit trade on their networks

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internet firms are failing to crack down on illicit trade

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused technology giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter of standing idly by while organised criminals use their platforms to facilitate illegal activities such as human trafficking, terrorism and the distribution of indecent images of children. Calling on investors to push for Silicon Valley firms to do more to prevent criminals exploiting their networks, May told an audience that these companies employ some of the best minds on the planet, and that it should not be too much of a stretch for some of them to focus their energies on quickly removing criminal content from their platforms, if not preventing it from appearing on them in the first place.

May has been criticising technology firms for months, taking a major swing at them for failing to take down extremist content and refusing to hand over encrypted messages sent by terrorist suspects after a string of Islamist attacks in the UK last year. While she is certainly right to do so, recent history has demonstrated that these companies have little interest in preventing criminals from using their platforms as safe spaces from which to conduct their illicit activities, and are only likely to take the problem seriously if they are forced to do so through tough new laws and the threat of meaningful financial penalties. Without these, social media platforms and encrypted messaging apps will continue to only pay lip service to eradicating criminal content from their networks, not least because doing so is an unprofitable use of their time and money. The fact that these companies have managed to fine tune their advertising algorithms to perfection but are still supposedly grappling with the issue of how to keep their platforms free from illegal content is no coincidence. If anything, the problem appears to be getting worse.

Illegal activities that were once restricted to the dark web are now routinely being reported on surface web platforms and applications. This past weekend, the Sunday Times told readers that drug dealers are using popular clothing app Depop to offer illegal substances to users as young as 13. Reporters from the paper discovered listings for marijuana, laughing gas and “pre-rolled spliffs” on the app. In October last year, a threat report from internet security firm IntSights revealed that online dealers were abandoning the dark web in favour of encrypted messaging apps after a number of hidden websites were closed down. Fearful that dark web marketplaces were not as anonymous as they had once thought, the report found vendors were increasingly offering their products in closed groups on apps such as Discord, Wickr, Telegram and WhatsApp, which are run by supposedly legitimate companies. More brazen dealers are peddling their wares on Facebook and Instagram, attempting to sell substances such as cocaine to schoolchildren.

Away from drugs, the Independent reported earlier this month that researchers from the University of Kent had discovered that illegal ivory is being openly sold on social media platforms and auction sites. In the US, human traffickers have used the likes of Facebook to groom young people into sex work, while people smugglers offering to transport migrants into Europe have regularly been caught advertising their services on social media platforms. The latter has been going for years, but despite repeated calls for a crackdown on the posting of such content, the problem persists pretty much unchanged. When it comes to online child sexual abuse, which should be relatively easy for tech firms to police, Silicon Valley’s lack of action has seen paedophiles flock to social media platforms in in their droves to meet and groom new victims. The UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last week heard that the number of suspected online child sexual abuse cases referred to Scotland Yard has rocketed by 700% since 2014. Separately, a senior British police officer this month told ITV News that tech firms such as Facebook, Google and WhatsApp are “fundamentally enabling” paedophiles to sexually abuse children.

Echoing May’s comments more generally using slightly stronger language, billionaire investor George Soros also laid into the likes of Facebook and Google in Davos last week, labelling them a “menace” to society, and calling for more “stringent” regulation to control their activities. Warning tech giants that their “days are numbered”, Soros said: “The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them.” But while Soros might be keen on curtailing some of the freedoms these firms have enjoyed since they were founded, political leaders seem less inclined to take concrete action against them, instead preferring to sanctimoniously grandstand about their failure to act against the criminals who use their networks with near impunity. Internet firms have persistently demonstrated they have no real intention of making any meaningful effort to cleanse their platforms of illegal activity, no matter how many empty threats are thrown their way by lawmakers. As such, governments around the world have no choice but to legislate against them if they want to cut off the almost unfettered access drug dealers, people traffickers and paedophiles have to the numerous online tools that make their lives much easier.

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products worth $11 million in India as part of its global anti-fraud programme

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products

US technology giant Hewlett Packard (HP) has seized counterfeit products worth INR 80 Crores ($11.26 million) in India over the course of the past year as part of its global Anti-Counterfeiting and Fraud (ACF) programme.

Releasing information about the last 12 months of the campaign in India as part of its efforts to raise awareness of the extent of the piracy of printing supplies in the country, HP revealed that the Delhi-National Capital Region leads the nation in terms of seizure value, with confiscations worth 33.5 Crores taking place there over the past year.

Bangalore finished the year in second place with seizures of INR 22 Crores, followed by Mumbai and Chennai with 6.5 and INR 3.5 Crores, respectively.

HP worked with police across the country to carry out raids on more than 170 premises, resulting in the arrest of over 140 suspects and the seizure of completed and unfinished bogus cartridges, counterfeit packaging materials, and various sets of labels that were used during the manufacture of HP print supplies.

Noting in a statement that counterfeit print supplies can pose a significant business risk to companies that use them in the form of printer damage and associated downtime, HP said it works in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies the world over to crack down on counterfeiters that produce fake versions of its products.

Back in June, a survey commissioned by HP revealed that businesses around the world were at a greater risk of being sold fake printer supplies than ever before.

The poll, which was carried out on behalf of HP by market research firm Harris Interactive, found the availability of counterfeit printer products was being driven by an increasingly broad supplier ecosystem, a lack of certainty among buyers that their purchases were genuine, and an absence of awareness of the risks of using counterfeit goods.

The study showed that $3 billion is lost every year to counterfeit print products.

Speaking at the time, Glenn Jones, Director of HP’s ACF programme, commented: “Every one of the key market indicators we monitor show a significant increase in the risk of counterfeit print supplies.

“For companies like HP, counterfeits undermine decades of focused research and testing aimed at creating superior ink and toner, and reliable, high-quality cartridges for our customers.

“For users, fakes cause a significant increase in print failures, low page yield, poor print quality, leaks and clogs, in addition to voiding hardware warranties.”

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UK consumers warned of counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

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counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

The UK’s Local Government Association has warned consumers in England and Wales to be on the lookout for dangerous fake toys in the run-up to Christmas.

In a statement issued after a string of seizures of hazardous counterfeit toys over the past few weeks, the Association, which represents local councils across England and Wales, cautioned shoppers to be alert to the tell-tale signs that products aimed at children might be bogus.

Trading standards investigators in the UK recently confiscated electric scooters that came without any safety documentation, tens of thousands teddy bears that posed a choking hazard, and audio products that exceeded legal decibel limits that had the potential to cause damage to children’s hearing.

The association also warned of fake versions of L.O.L Surprise! Dolls, which were the “must-have” gift over last year’s festive period, that were found to contain phthalates, a chemical that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.

Consumers should also exercise caution when looking to take advantage of last-minute offers online for products that have sold out at mainstream retailers, as these are oftentimes run by scammers who will take shoppers money and send nothing in return, the association said.

Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, commented: “Christmas is a hotbed for criminals who put profit before safety by selling dangerous, counterfeit toys at cheap prices to unsuspecting shoppers.

“Bargain hunters need to be aware that fake, substandard toys can break and cause injuries or pose choking hazards, toxic materials can cause burns and serious harm, while illegal electrical toys can lead to fires or electrocution.

“It’s not unusual for rogue sellers to cash in on desperate shoppers by selling fake versions of ‘must-have’ toys sold out in well-known retailers, or claim to have them in stock on their website when they actually don’t exist.

Much as it is for retailers the world over, the Christmas period is one of the busiest and most profitable times of year for fraudsters and counterfeiters.

At the end of November, a toy importer in Los Angeles was charged with making and possessing more than $1.4 million in counterfeit goods, including toys, backpacks and playing cards.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Wan Piao had been charged with seven felony counts of the infringement of intellectual property rights, affecting brands such as Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Lego Ninjago, JanSport, Shopkins and Super Mario.

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Europol-led crackdown on counterfeit and piracy websites results in take down of over 30,500 domains

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take down of over 30,500 domains

A global coalition of law enforcement agencies has shut down more than 30,500 domain names linked to the sale and distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods.

Operation In Our Sites (IOS) X, which involved investigators from 18 European Union members states and was supported by Interpol, Europol and the US National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre, took down websites that sold illicit pharmaceuticals, fake electronic items, pirated films, music and software, and illegally streamed TV content.

As well as removing dodgy websites from the internet, investigators participating in the effort arrested three suspects and confiscated a number of items, including 26,000 luxury products, more than 360 litres of alcoholic, and multiple electronic devices.

The operation also resulted in the identification and freezing of more than €150 000 ($166,308) held in several bank accounts and on internet payment platforms.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol ’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³) supported the investigation on the ground by deploying experts with a mobile office.

“Europol officers carried out real-time information exchange and cross-checks of the data gathered during the course of the action against Europol’s databases.

“In addition, IPC3 experts organised several online investigation techniques training courses in intellectual property infringements in 2019 with law enforcement authorities all over Europe.”

The IOS campaign, which first took place in 2014, was launched by Europol to make the internet a safer place for consumers, and to persuade more national governments and private sector firms to take action against counterfeiters who sell goods and services that breach intellectual property rights online.

In last year’s operation, investigators from 26 EU member states teamed up with Europol to take down almost 34,000 domain names that were suspected of links to criminals selling fake and pirated items.

At the end of November, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) revealed in a report that access to pirated content across the 28-nation bloc dropped by 15% between 2017 and 2018, with the sharpest fall seen in music (32%), followed by film (19%) and TV (8%).

Warning that piracy remains a significant problem across the EU, EUIPO Executive Director Christian Archambeau said: “Despite the downturn in pirated consumption shown in our study, there is still much work to do to tackle this problem, and we hope these findings will help decision-makers as they develop policies and solutions.”

In a separate report, the EUIPO said internet protocol television (IPTV) unauthorised streaming generated €941.7 million in 2018, and that these services were used by 13.7 million people across member states that year.

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