In an immediately enforceable preliminary judgement made on November 12th, a court in the Netherlands has officially ruled that Facebook can be ordered to use its ad-filtering technologies to identify and remove fake ads that fraudulently use the images of celebrities to endorse cryptocurrency scams.
According to Reuters, the ruling comes as the result of a case filed by Dutch billionaire and media personality Johannes Hendrikus Hubert de Mol Jr., also known as John de Mol, in June of this year. De Mol sued the social media giant after repeatedly requesting to remove advertisements that co-opted his likeness (as well as the likeness of other local celebrities) to steal 1.7 million euros.
According to the ruling, Facebook must either remove the ads in question, or be fined up to 1.1 million euros.
De Mol’s lawsuit also asked that Facebook make an effort to keep the issue from happening again, and demanded information about the scammers who placed the advertisements.
Facebook’s arguments that it is just a neutral funnel for information…is not acceptable.”
In a summary of the case’s outcome, the court said that “Facebook’s arguments that it is just a neutral funnel for information, and therefore cannot be obligated to act, is not acceptable.”
Indeed, the court argued that Facebook has an involved pricing policy for advertisements, and also has a filtering system in place for other kinds of advertisements that it does not allow on its platform: “the company plays too active a role with respect to advertisements, which form its primary business model, to argue that,” the summary said.
In response to the ruling, Facebook has said that it is considering “all legal actions, including an appeal.” Throughout the proceedings, the company argued that it had already removed the offending ads, and therefore that the lawsuit was unnecessary.
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The social media platform also publicly stated that “importantly, this ruling does not change our commitment to fighting these types of ads. We cannot stress enough that these types of ads have absolutely no place on Facebook, and we remove them when we find them.”
De Mol, who reportedly originally discovered the fraudulent ads as far back as October of 2018, was cited by Reuters, saying that “this verdict prompts Facebook to take measures as soon as possible, so that innocent people can’t be defrauded by those fake Bitcoin advertisements anymore.”
British financial expert Martin Lewis previously sued Facebook over a similar case
While this is hopefully the last time that a financial scam uses a celebrity’s image to promote itself on Facebook, it certainly isn’t the first time.
Indeed, British financial expert and media personality Martin Lewis filed a lawsuit against Facebook last year for allowing ads that used his name and likeness to promote financial schemes.
In exchange for dropping the legal action, Facebook agreed to remove the ads and to donate £3m to set up an anti-scam program. The money was given to Citizens Advice to build a new service to help victims of online fraudsters.
Before the lawsuit was resolved, Lewis said that “any ad with my picture or name in is without my permission. I’ve asked it not to publish them, or at least to check their legitimacy with me before publishing,” he said to Facebook, as cited by The Register.
“This shouldn’t be difficult – after all, it’s a leader in face and text recognition. Yet it simply continues to repeatedly publish these adverts and then relies on me to report them, once the damage has been done.”
In January of 2018, Facebook placed a sweeping ban on all advertisements related to cryptocurrency. The ban was first eased in June of 2018, and again in May of this year.