Meta’s top social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have become enormously successful e-commerce channels, and the counterfeiters have followed the money, says a new report by Ghostdata.
Fuelled by technological additions like Facebook Pay, the emergence of Messenger as a unified chat and sales tool and WhatsApp’s online catalogues for businesses, the social media juggernaut has become a magnet for illicit traders who make use of this new integrated functionality.
“Meta and its subsidiaries have developed a strategy increasingly aimed at becoming an e-commerce leader, thus attracting a more diversified crowd of ruthless counterfeiters,” says the report.
“In turn this has further exposed Facebook’s inability to keep under control such activities on its platforms. This controversial behaviour led to an increase of counterfeit sellers and eventually to a general user distrust still evident today,” it continues.
Meta makes much of its efforts to protect intellectual property and fight the sale and promotion of counterfeit products, saying it makes ongoing improvements to enforcement measures and reporting tools and is investing in technology to prevent counterfeit activity.
However, the report finds that “despite Meta’s security reports and legal initiatives, the effects of their supposed crackdown on these illicit activities are disappointing and insufficient.”
“At the same time, WhatsApp has become the counterfeiters’ favourite and most used tool. Particularly WhatsApp Business, an option aimed at mom-and-pop companies, is now used by 40% of such Chinese counterfeiters, surpassing even the local and wildly popular WeChat.”
Ghostdata analysts used software including textual searches and visual recognition to try to identify sellers of counterfeits on the sites from online activity, and in just 20 days came up with a total of 26,770 counterfeiters’ accounts that were active on Facebook at the end of October 2021.
“Our study revealed that each counterfeiter profile counts an average of over 1,250 friends,” says the report, adding: “a very conservative estimate indicates that counterfeiters reach about 20 million unique contacts through newsfeed and private messages.”
It will be no surprise that the vast majority of these counterfeiters found by Ghostdata seem to be operating from mainland China, although it found examples of sellers in Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Ukraine and Brazil.
“We estimate that on Facebook and Instagram combined there are about 6,000-7,000 wholesalers from China, with an annual business turnover ranging between $1.8bn and $2.1bn,” it says, adding: “this is a quite conservative estimate.”
Luxury clothing and accessories brands were most mentioned by counterfeiters, with the list headed by Louis Vuitton – accounting for 58% of activity – followed by Chanel, Fendi, Prada and Gucci.