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Why Does Facebook run ads for counterfeiters?

This ad for a counterfeit Canada Goose Parka appeared on Facebook in November.

When Santa draws up his naughty vs. nice list this year, he’ll likely be paying special attention to the growing number of online ads meant to trap you into buying counterfeit merchandise online.

Fake ads are increasingly showing up in people’s social media feeds, typically based on items for which they had been searching perhaps only moments earlier. If you’ve Googled a Canada Goose parka recently, hey, look, there’s an ad for Canada Goose parkas on your Facebook page! Fancy that.

As cookies become obsolete, online marketers, in collaboration with Google, Facebook and Apple, are developing new techniques for building user profiles for the purpose of targeting each user with more and more individually personalized ads.

Canada Goose is in a tough spot. But while the company is to be credited for acknowledging the problem, there’s nothing anyone can particularly do about shutting down retailers of fake merchandise in faraway jurisdictions.

What the company is forced to do to combat the fakes is run a page on its own website called “Is it Real or Counterfeit?” in which customers can enter the URL of a company to see if it is selling the real deal. URLs we tested in November that were displayed in Facebook ads came up as fakes.

The fake parkas are a curious sight on the social media giant’s site because the company’s own policies would appear to disallow them.

“Ads must not contain false, misleading, fraudulent, or deceptive claims or content,” says Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines”.

Its regulations on ad content are even more specific.

“Advertisers must ensure that their ads comply with all applicable laws, regulations and guidelines,” says Facebook’s policy, which was updated December 15th. “All claims in ads must be adequately substantiated. Ads must not offend users. Ads and any offers promoted within ads must not be false, deceptive or misleading or contain spam. Ads must not contain or promote illegal products or services. Ads must not violate the rights of any third parties. Video ads for health products and services may not be allowed to play automatically”.

Facebook did not respond to attempt to contact them for comment on this story.

Italian researchers Andrea Stroppa and Agostino Specchiarello recently reviewed more than 1,000 online ads. Of the 180 of those ads that fell into the luxury or fashion category, 43 were deemed to be fake.

A recent US District Court decision filed on behalf of the NBA and affiliated basketball merchandise vendors found that fake companies make unauthorized use of logos that customers have come to trust, such as the McAfee® Security and VeriSign® trademarks, and that they also use “other notable common features, including use of the same domain name registration patterns, unique shopping cart platforms, accepted payment methods, check-out methods, meta data, domain redirection, lack of contact information, identically or similarly priced items and volume sales discounts, the same incorrect grammar and misspellings, and similar hosting services.”

That same decision also noted that fake companies “use other unauthorized search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to increase website rank.”

In one of the cases studied by Stroppa and Specchiarello, Ray-Ban sunglasses were convincingly hawked via a spoof website with a variety of urls scattered across multiple jurisdictions through a Chinese registrar. The spoof url would bring the unsuspecting customer to virtually an exact copy of the Ray-Ban website.

Physical counterfeiting is a $654-billion industry.

The sad truth of combating these fakes is to report them to the companies they’re ripping off, who will then report the bogus url to the authorities, who will then have to seize it. It’ll be a long game of whack-a-mole, though, with forgers likely to develop ever craftier ways of fleecing the public.

In the meantime, buyer beware.

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