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The likes of Amazon and eBay will only take on counterfeiters if forced to do so

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At the beginning of March, the owner of a small US business accused online retail behemoth Amazon of profiting from the sale of cheap Chinese counterfeits. In a blog post on his company’s website, Elevation Lab founder Casey Hopkins, whose firm makes an under-desk mount for headphones, called out Amazon for failing to do enough to prevent inferior-quality knock-offs being listed for sale on its platform. Hopkins outlined how an anonymous manufacturer in China was able to reverse engineer his under-desk headphone mount and offer it for sale on Amazon at a reduced price, depriving his company of sales, and resulting in buyers receiving substandard products. Amazon moved against the offending seller after Hopkins’ blog post was picked up by a number of technology websites, removing its listings from its platform. The Jeff Bezos-owned firm also issued a platitude-laden statement talking up its efforts to crack down on fraudsters using its marketplace.

Whether or not the seller that faked Hopkins’ product would have been dealt with in this manner if his post had not attracted media attention is debatable, but what is clear is that sales platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart simply are not doing enough to prevent counterfeit goods being listed on their websites. The week before Hopkins posted his blog, a US government report warned that an increasing number of counterfeit goods are being offered for sale on ecommerce platforms. The study, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), noted how the growth of ecommerce had created a new and increasing threat to intellectual property rights holders, and had made it much more difficult for consumers to determine whether or not the goods they buy are genuine.

Warning that cheap counterfeit products offered for sale on ecommerce platforms are endangering legitimate manufacturers and the wider US economy, not to mention posing a significant threat to the health and safety of consumers, the GAO recommended a review of its efforts to enhance intellectual property rights enforcement, and increased cooperation between its officials and the private sector. Commenting on the contents of the report, Beverly Baskin, CEO of the US Council of Better Business Bureaus, said: “If marketplace leaders struggle to keep out counterfeit products, and if consumers cannot rely on those leading companies to protect them from counterfeits, we have a serious problem that can undermine consumer confidence in the entire retail market.”

Bizarrely, the GAO’s recommendations omitted any mention of the enhanced role ecommerce platforms themselves could play in keeping counterfeiters off their websites. Technology giants have proved very adept at reacting quickly to any threat that might impact their bottom lines, but are typically less responsive if a problem does not directly affect them financially. In much the same way that social media companies are slow to remove illegal content from their platforms, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and eBay appear reluctant to invest serious resources into ridding their networks of counterfeit products. Not only is it not profitable for them to do so, in most cases they actually make money from the sale of fake items on their websites. Generally speaking, every time a counterfeit product is sold on an ecommerce platform, its owner takes a cut of the price. As such, it simply does not make financial sense for them to make any real effort to crack down on companies and individuals that use their properties to peddle knock-offs, a situation which has resulted in them only paying lip service to doing so. While ecommerce routinely boast about their initiatives to target fraudsters, an overwhelming amount of evidence clearly shows they are not doing enough.

Sadly, it appears the only way to persuade the owners of these online marketplaces to get serious about properly policing their websites is through the drafting of new legislation that forces them to do so. Last week, the European Commission told technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that they could face fines if they fail to take down extremist material within one hour of it being reported. If lawmakers are serious about protecting intellectual property rights holders and small businesses, it would be sensible to introduce similar punishments for ecommerce firms who allow fake goods to be offered on their platforms. If Amazon, Walmart and eBay faced a substantial fine for every counterfeit listing they allowed to stay live on their websites for 24 hours, it would be likely that some of the brilliant minds they employ would quickly be put to work on developing technology that would ensure these listings are taken down as quickly as they appear.

Large internet firms have proved time and again that they care little for members of the societies they purportedly serve, be they victims of terrorist attacks that have been inspired by material spread online, or small business owners losing money to Chinese counterfeiters who are able to sell knock-offs on ecommerce platforms with near impunity. The time has come for these companies to be held accountable for their behaviour. If they fail to take action of their own accord, they should be forced to protect members of the public and businesses from the bad actors who are currently able use their products all but freely.

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Internet watchdog took down record number of child sex abuse images last year

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internet watchdog took down record number of child sex abuse images

The UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has revealed that it took down more than 100,000 webpages containing sexual imagery of children and young people aged under 18 last year.

In its latest annual report, the IWF, which works to remove child abuse images from the internet, said it discovered and took down a record 105,047 webpages featuring indecent material last year.

Many of those pages contained hundreds of indecent images and videos, it said.

That figure was up from the 78,589 pages the organisation identified and removed from the internet in 2017.

The IWF said the increase was in part thanks to its use of improved technology to help its analysts speed up the detection and assessment of child abuse material.

Figures for 2018 show that the amount of indecent images hosted in Britain has reached the lowest level ever recorded by the group.

Just 0.04% of the global total dealt with by the IWF last year was hosted in the UK, which was down from 18% in 1996.

In contrast, nearly half (47%) of the illegal content reported to the organisation last year was hosted in the Netherlands.

The IWF said it has offered to provide support to a Dutch organisation that deals with indecent images of children online.

Four-fifths of the child sex abuse images processed by the IWF last year were found to be hosted in European countries.

Over the first six months of last year, the IWF discovered that more than a quarter (27%) of the content it assessed was “self-generated”, and predominantly involved girls aged between 11 and 13 who had been manipulated  into livestreaming images of themselves from their bedrooms or elsewhere in a home setting.

In a statement issued to coincide with the launch of the report, IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves commented: “Despite us removing more and more images than ever before, and despite creating and using some of the world’s leading technology, it’s clear that this problem is far from being solved.

“The cause of the problem is the demand. Unfortunately, and as the police tell us often, there are 100,000 people sitting in the UK right now demanding images of the abuse of children.

“This is a global challenge and no doubt every country’s police force will have their own estimations of this criminality.

“With this continued demand for images of child rape, it’s a constant battle.”

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US authorities could reclassify synthetic opioid fentanyl as ‘weapon of mass destruction’

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US authorities could reclassify synthetic opioid fentanyl

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has suggested that synthetic opioid fentanyl could be reclassified as “a weapon of mass destruction”, according to an internal memo obtained by military news site Task & Purpose.

In the memo, the DHS argues that the toxicity of the drug, which is said to be as many as 100 times more potent than morphine, makes it a suitable candidate to be categorised as a non-conventional chemical weapon, which would allow law enforcement agencies greater power to inspect suspected shipments and develop new tools with which to detect them.

“Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking non-conventional materials for a chemical weapons attack,” DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James McDonnell wrote in the memo.

“In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that… fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals.”

McDonnell notes that human consumption of as little as two milligrams of the synthetic opioid can result in death.

The memo only focuses on quantities of the drug that could be used to create mass-casualty weapons, but fails to outline how much fentanyl would be required to produce such a threat.

Going on to make clear that reclassifying the drugs could help curb its role in America’s spiralling opioid crisis, McDonnell writes: “[M]any activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts.”

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that US overdose deaths linked to fentanyl rocketed between 2011 and 2016, increasing from fewer than 1,700 to over 18,000 over the five-year period.

Back in October 2017, US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis engulfing America a public health emergency, and outlined a series of measures designed to clamp down on the importation of cheap synthetics such as fentanyl from China and parts of Latin America.

Months later, Trump signed a bill designed to tackle the issue into law, providing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers with $15 million of extra funding to be spent on new screening devices and lab equipment.

Taking to Twitter, the President wrote: “Together, we are committed to doing everything we can to combat the deadly scourge of drug addiction and overdose in the United States!”

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road dark web marketplace

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road

A jobless university drop-out from the UK city of Liverpool has been jailed after being convicted of running the Silk Road 2.0 dark web marketplace while collecting indecent images of children.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Thomas White, 24, helped run the original Silk Road marketplace until it was closed down by FBI investigators in 2013.

Within a month of its shutdown, White had launched Silk Road 2.0, which like its predecessor was used by vendors to offer illicit items including drugs, weapons, cyber crime tools and stolen credit card details on the dark web.

White, who abandoned his accounting degree at Liverpool John Moores University after just one term, rented a £1,700 ($2,225)-a-month apartment on the waterfront in Liverpool city centre at the time of his arrest, despite ostensibly being unemployed.

While investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said they could not be sure how much money White made while operating Silk Road 2.0, it is estimated that illegal goods worth some $96 million were sold on the platform, on which he would take a commission of between 1% and 5%.

During a raid on White’s apartment, police discovered a laptop computer under his bed, which was found to contain 464 indecent images of children in the most serious category.

It later emerged that White had discussed setting up a hidden website on which to publish child abuse material during an online chat with a Silk Road 2.0 administrator.

Like Ross Ulbricht, who was jailed for life with no parole for running the original Silk Road marketplace in 2015, White used the online alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to a fictional character in the novel the Princess Bride by William Goldman.

White was sentenced to more than five years behind bars.

Speaking after he was jailed, Ian Glover from the NCA said: “White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy.

“He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down.

“We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation.”

Separately, one of Britain’s most senior cyber detectives has warned that Europeans gangs are targeting autistic gamers in the hope of turning them into the next generation of hackers.

Peter Goodman, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for cyber crime, told the Press Association that more than eight out of 10 (82%) of young people being enlisted by online criminals develop skills while gaming, with many of those targeted on the autistic spectrum.

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