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On Facebook, Many Ads for Luxury Goods Lead to Counterfeit Sellers

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Milan — One out of four Facebook advertisements for cut-price luxury goods such as Louis Vuitton handbags and Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses links to websites selling counterfeit items, according to findings by two independent cybersecurity researchers.

Ads touting offers like $180 designer eyewear for less than $30 linked to bogus e-commerce sites registered by Chinese front companies, a review by Andrea Stroppa and Agostino Specchiarello showed. The Italians examined more than 1,000 ads on the social-networking site, including 180 in the category of luxury and fashion. Of those, 43 pointed to fake products.

Fraudulent Internet links have long been a battleground for luxury companies. In September, Paris-based LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton ended a longstanding dispute with Google, agreeing to work with the search company to help prevent vendors from advertising counterfeit goods online.

LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods company, had accused Google of violating its trademark rights by selling protected words as keywords that then link users, who search under the French company’s brands, to websites selling fake items. Facebook goes to great lengths to find illegitimate listings and to respond to requests for removal, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company said.

“We prohibit fraudulent or misleading claims or content, and to enforce our terms and policies we have invested significant resources in developing a robust advertising review program that includes both automated and manual review of ads,” Facebook said in an emailed statement.

How Facebook and other Internet giants police their ad networks can play an important role in hampering the sale of fakes online, said Guido Scorza, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property.

One of the best ways to fight e-commerce sites that break copyright is “not shutting them down but isolating them from the largest advertising chains,” he said.

Websites that sell counterfeit goods often look very similar to the real thing. One knockoff Ray-Ban storefront includes the brand name in the Web address, designs and logos resembling, and information about non-existent warranties, according to the researchers. Milan-based Luxottica Group, the world’s largest eyewear maker and owner of Ray-Ban, says it’s working with Facebook and urges the company to do more.

“The fight against counterfeiting is a priority for Luxottica,” a spokeswoman said.

For Stroppa, one of the researchers, this isn’t the first time he’s scrutinized social media. Last year, he and Carlo De Micheli examined the underground market for Twitter followers. Based on their findings, they told The New York Times that they estimated there were as many as 20 million fake follower accounts.

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