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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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Porsche seizes 200,000 counterfeit items bearing its branding worth an estimated €60 million

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Porsche seizes 200,000 counterfeit items

German luxury carmaker Porsche confiscated more than 200,000 counterfeit items bearing it branding last year.

In a crackdown on manufacturers and sellers of fake Porsche products, the company identified and seized bogus items with an estimated value of some €60 million ($67.15 million), of which 33,000 were said to have been spare parts for its cars.

The company said it is these items that cause it the most concern on account of the fact they could pose a serious risk to drivers’ safety if they were fitted to cars.

In a statement, the firm said that fake Porsche products such as airbags and brake discs are neither tested or approved for use in its vehicles, noting that it goes to great lengths to make sure that counterfeit spare parts do not end up being fitted to its cars.

Other items seized as part of the crackdown included merchandise such as clothing and posters featuring the company’s branding, as well erectile dysfunction tablets shaped like the Porsche logo.

Publicising the success of its efforts to target counterfeiters, the company criticised ecommerce and auction sites such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba for allowing the sale of fake Porsche items on their platforms.

The company also noted that some 80% of all counterfeit products bearing its branding are manufactured in China, where they are sometimes made in small domestic workshops and even in family homes.

Michaela Stoiber, of the company’s Brand Protection team, said: “Sometimes the counterfeits are quite obvious.

“The products are far cheaper than normal, or the Porsche emblem has been poorly copied. We sometimes also find that a different animal is shown in the centre of the logo.

“For example, instead of the Porsche horse, it could be a sheep standing on its hind legs.

“Our goal is always to locate the source. Once we have found it, we inform the local authorities to take the necessary steps there. This collaboration generally works very well.”

It was reported last month that police in Brazil had raided a factory in the south of the country that was manufacturing fake Lamborghinis and Ferraris.

Investigators said the vehicles were being sold on social media for a fraction of the price of the genuine article, and could be purchased for as little as $45,000.

The cheapest 2019 Ferrari model comes with a recommended sale price of nearly $215,000.

Speaking with the Guardian, Brazilian detective Angelo Fragelli said. “Some were half ready, some were just being started.”

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Chinese man jailed for three years in US for importing thousands of bogus Apple products

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importing thousands of bogus Apple products

A Chinese man who had been living in the US on a student visa has been jailed for more than three years for importing and selling counterfeit Apple products.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that a court in New Jersey handed Jianhua Li a 36-month sentence after he was convicted of smuggling bogus Apple products, including fake iPhones and iPads, from his country of origin into the United States.

The 44-year-old, who had previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and labels, and one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods, is said to have worked with co-conspirators all over the country.

Court documents show that Li and his associates illegally imported more than 40,000 electronic devices and accessories between July 2009 and February 2014, including iPads and iPhones, as a well as labels and packaging featuring counterfeit Apple trademarks.

Li is said to have imported the electronic devices and the labels separately in a bid to avoid the attention of customs officials.

Once in his possession of illicit goods, he would distribute them to co-conspirators in various locations across the US, using his company Dream Digitals as cover for the plot.

Li set up an elaborate structure to launder the proceeds of his crimes, funnelling profits through bank accounts in Florida and New Jersey, and diverting a portion to conspirators in Italy, further disguising the source of the funds.

Prosecutors revealed that more than $1.1 million was known to have been wired from US banks to accounts that Li controlled in overseas territories.

Andreina Becerra, Roberto Volpe and Rosario LaMarca had previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy.

LaMarca was jailed for 37 months in July 2017, while Becerra and Volpe were sentenced in October last year to serve three years’ probation and 22 months in prison respectively.

In a statement, the DoJ said: “The HSI Newark Seaport Investigations Group and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Financial Crimes Unit investigated the case with significant assistance from HSI Attaché Rome, Europol and Italy’s Guardia di Finanza.”

Earlier this month, theJournal.ie reported that police in Ireland had warned consumers to be on the lookout for fake iPhones on sale in Dublin.

They issued the alert after a woman was sold a handset that she later discovered to be counterfeit when she attempted to trade it in with a reputable dealer.

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Amazon Prime Day bonanza for counterfeiters as sales of fake items rise by a third over discount event, survey finds

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Amazon Prime Day bonanza for counterfeiters

A survey conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points has revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during its Prime Day event.

In a poll that suggests the online retail behemoth’s discount spectacular has become a bonanza for counterfeiters, Red Points found that members of generation Z and millennials are the most likely demographic to purchase a fake item while bargain hunting during the 48-hour sale, the latest edition of which is due to kick off on Monday.

The survey of 2,000 US internet shoppers revealed that the pressure to snap up a deal on Prime Day results in buyers making rash decisions and failing to carry out research into potential purchases they might conduct under different circumstances.

Sixty percent of respondents to the poll said they felt under pressure to buy items more quickly than they otherwise might when shopping during the Prime Day event, with panel members saying they suspected that “33% more of the products they had bought [on Prime Day] were counterfeit”.

When asked how much time they would typically spend on researching a product online before making a purchase during sales events such as Prime Day, 53% of survey participants said they would take up to 30 minutes to make their final decision.

Meanwhile on a regular shopping day, 44.4% of panel members said they would spend between one and four hours carrying out research before making a purchase.

“With counterfeit products listed alongside authentic ones on marketplaces, it’s an easy mistake to make when rushed by the urgency of a deal,” Red Points said.

“There’s no time to look at the seller’s page, which is usually will have a few tell-tale signs, like a shipping location that doesn’t match the brand’s location and quite simply the alarming lack of replies they may have. There are simply too many offers distracting the buyer’s attention.”

Amazon has criticised the survey, labelling it as “a shameful stunt” with “flawed methodology” that was more about attracting new clients for Red Points than highlighting problems relating to counterfeits sold on its platform.

“We stand behind the products in our store and ferociously protect the customer experience every single day. If a customer has a concern, they can contact us for a full refund,” IP Pro quotes an Amazon spokesperson as saying.

“In 2018 alone, we invested more than $400 million to protect customers and brands and more than 99.9% of pages viewed by customers never had a notice of infringement.”

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