26 September 2023

ACCC to face Meta in Court

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken action over alleged misleading conduct by international platform giant Meta for publishing scam celebrity cryptocurrency ads on Facebook.

Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims said the Commission had instituted Federal Court proceedings against Meta, alleging that it engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by publishing scam advertisements featuring prominent Australian public figures.

“The ACCC alleges that the ads, which promoted investment in cryptocurrency or money-making schemes, were likely to mislead Facebook users into believing the advertised schemes were associated with well-known people featured in the ads, such as businessman Dick Smith, TV presenter David Koch and former NSW Premier Mike Baird,” Mr Sims said.

“The schemes were in fact scams and the people featured in the ads had never approved or endorsed them,” he said.

“The ads contained links which took Facebook users to a fake media article that included quotes attributed to the public figure featured in the ad endorsing a cryptocurrency or money-making scheme.”

Mr Sims said users were then invited to sign up and were subsequently contacted by scammers who used high pressure tactics, such as repeated phone calls, to convince users to deposit funds into the fake schemes.

He said the essence of the ACCC case was that Meta was responsible for the ads that it published on its platform.

“It is a key part of Meta’s business to enable advertisers to target users who are most likely to click on the link in an ad to visit the ad’s landing page, using Facebook algorithms,” he said.

“Those visits to landing pages from ads generate substantial revenue for Facebook.”

Mr Sims said the ACCC alleged that Meta was aware the celebrity endorsement cryptocurrency scam ads were being displayed on Facebook but did not take sufficient steps to address the issue.

He said the celebrity endorsement cryptocurrency scam ads continued to be displayed on Facebook even after public figures around the world had complained that their names and images had been used in similar ads without their consent.

“We allege that the technology of Meta enabled these ads to be targeted to users most likely to engage with the ads, that Meta assured its users it would detect and prevent spam and promote safety on Facebook, but it failed to prevent the publication of other similar celebrity endorsement cryptocurrency scam ads on its pages or warn users,” he said.

The Chair said the ACCC was aware of one “shocking instance” of a consumer who allegedly lost more than $650,000 due to one of the scams being falsely advertised as an investment opportunity on Facebook.

“This is disgraceful,” Mr Sims said.

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