A company that allegedly stole identities and sold millions of fake Twitter followers to celebrities is under investigation in the US.
New York's chief prosecutor Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into Devumi, after a New York Times report accused the company of fraudulent behaviour, including stealing people’s identities and selling millions of bot followers.
Devumi, which promises to "accelerate" clients’ social media growth, sells a range of followers, likes, views and retweets across social media sites including Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, Pinterest, Vimeo and LinkedIn.
The Times report argues that Martha Lane Fox, herself a Twitter board member, made seven purchases from Devumi in 2016—for which she blamed to a "rogue employee".
An official account belonging to The Great British Bake Off host Paul Hollywood, meanwhile, deleted his account after being contacted by journalists working for the Times.
The company’s Twitter account has been suspended following the allegations. In a statement, the social network commented that tactics used by Devumi on its platform violate its policies and are "unacceptable".
Writing on Twitter, New York state attorney General Schneiderman said: "Impersonation and deception are illegal under New York law. We’re opening an investigation into Devumi and its apparent sale of bots using stolen identities.
"The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy—but it’s increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground.
"The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in our public conversation. Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence."