Malware, crypto scams, and boner pills: Facebook’s had enough

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Image: A. Zabnina / getty

Facebook is going to court. 

The social media company most often associated with the abolition of privacy wants you to know that, if nothing else, it truly cares about your ad experience. So much so, in fact, that it’s taking a Hong Kong-based advertising company to court over allegations that for three years it ran an elaborate ad-fraud scheme pushing everything from counterfeit goods to boner pills on unsuspecting users. 

A lawsuit filed Thursday by Facebook in California courts accuses ILikeAd Media International Company Ltd., Chen Xiao Cong, and Huang Tao of a scam starting in 2016 that began with tricking Facebook users into installing malware onto their computers. Then, with the malware ready to go, the defendants allegedly were able to compromise Facebook users’ accounts. 

And all that was just the first step. 

Next, the compromised accounts were used to buy and run shady ads on the social media platform, In order to get past Facebook’s various ad filters, the company claims the bad actors used a technique called “cloaking” to hide links’ true destination. 

One of the exhibits from the lawsuit, allegedly showing an ad for the ad-fraud scheme.

One of the exhibits from the lawsuit, allegedly showing an ad for the ad-fraud scheme.

Image: Screenshot / facebook lawsuit

“A ‘cloaked’ landing page used in an ad will display content to Facebook’s automated and manual review systems that differs from that shown to actual Facebook users,” reads the lawsuit. “The true landing pages will frequently include ads for deceptive diet pills and cryptocurrency investments and images of sexual content.”

In this case, according to the suit, the ads “redirected Facebook users to landing pages associated with counterfeit goods, male enhancement supplements, and diet pills.”

Facebook announced the lawsuit in a Dec. 5 blog post, and took a moment to explain why court cases like this are (in its mind) relatively rare. 

“Cloaking schemes are often sophisticated and well organized, making the individuals and organizations behind them difficult to identify and hold accountable,” reads the blog post. “As a result, there have not been many legal actions of this kind.” 

We’re so fortunate to live in a world where Facebook isn’t afraid to blaze legal trails in its efforts to eradicate the fraudulent boner pill ads suffocating its platform. Though Facebook seems to have missed this one key detail: many of its users are actually bothered by an entirely different type of Facebook ad.

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