Jessica Goodfellow
Apr 13, 2020

Facebook sues Indian engineer over 'deceptive' ads, including COVID-19 scams

Firm concealed websites featuring scams related to COVID-19, cryptocurrency, pharmaceuticals, diet pills, and fake news pages.

Facebook sues Indian engineer over 'deceptive' ads, including COVID-19 scams

Facebook has sued a Bangkok-based individual whose company offers advertisers a "cloaking" service to circumvent the social network's advertising filters, allegedly enabling “hundreds” of deceptive ads to run, including scams related to COVID-19.

The tech giant said the company in question, LeadCloak, has been providing "cloaking" software designed to circumvent not only Facebook and Instagram filters, but also that of Google, Oath, Wordpress and Shopify. LeadCloak has been offering these services for four years.

The technique tricks an ad review system by showing the system a different website to what the end user would see. It allows the advertiser to promote deceptive products and services to a user which are often banned under Facebook's advertising policies, by concealing the ad as an innocent product like a sweater, Facebook said.

LeadCloak’s software was used to conceal websites featuring scams related to COVID-19, cryptocurrency, pharmaceuticals, diet pills, and fake news pages, Facebook said. Some of these cloaked websites also included images of celebrities.

For example, LeadCloak recently ran an ad with a landing page showing a “fake news” article promoting bitcoin as a counter to the economic havoc caused by COVID-19, but the landing page delivered to Facebook's review system showed stainless steel spoons, Facebook said.

It is suing the founder Basant Gajjar, an Indian software engineer residing in Bangkok. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and an injunction barring Gajjar from accessing Facebook and Instagram and from developing or marketing code to circumvent Facebook's ad review process, among other prohibitions.

Jessica Romero, director of platform enforcement and litigation at Facebook, said in a blog post on Thursday that Facebook has already taken “technical enforcement measures against Leadcloak and accounts that we’ve determined have used their software, including disabling personal and ad accounts on Facebook and Instagram.”

Facebook also intends to use the lawsuit to "identify Leadcloak’s customers and take additional enforcement actions against them".

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