Facebook Bans 7 ‘Surveillance-For-Hire’ Companies That Spied On 50,000 Users

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The parent company of Facebook and Instagram has banned seven firms it says used its platforms to spy on some 50,000 unsuspecting targets, including human rights activists, government critics, celebrities, journalists and ordinary people in more than 100 countries. These "surveillance-for-hire" companies were linked to around 1,500 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were used to collect information on people and try to trick them into handing over sensitive personal information so that the firms could install spyware on their devices, according to a report released on Thursday by Meta, formerly known as Facebook. "Each of these actors rely on networks of fake accounts on our platforms that are used to deceive users and mislead them," Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta's head of security policy, told NPR. Some firms also used Meta's WhatsApp to infect targets' phones with malware. The surveillance was also carried out over other internet services, from email and text messages to Twitter and YouTube. The goal, Gleicher said, is to "spy on people or snoop on them without them knowing about it." Gleicher's team spent months investigating surveillance activity before taking action against the seven companies for violating Meta's community standards and terms of service. Four of the firms are based in Israel, and the other three in China, India, and North Macedonia. They include Black Cube, an Israel-based intelligence group reportedly used by Harvey Weinstein to dig up dirt on his accusers and journalists. Meta said Black Cube created fake accounts posing as graduate students, human rights workers and film and TV producers and tried to set up phone calls and get email addresses for a wide range of targets, from Palestinian activists to people working in medicine, mining and nonprofit organizations to figures involved in Russia's tech, finance, real estate and media sectors. [...] Another Israeli firm called Bluehawk CI tried to trick government opponents in the United Arab Emirates by pretending to be reporters for Fox News and Italy's La Stampa, Meta said. Meta also took down accounts connected to "an unidentified entity in China" that, Meta says, made tools used by Chinese law enforcement to spy on minority groups in Xinjiang, Myanmar and Hong Kong. "Meta has banned the companies from its platforms, removed the accounts it linked to them, and sent them cease-and-desist warnings," adds NPR. "It is notifying around 50,000 people whom it believes were targeted, and shared its findings with security researchers, other tech companies and policymakers."

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