Facebook Sues User for Cloaking Ads for Fake COVID-19 News and Crypto Scams

Facebook and Instagram filed suit against a user who, they allege, operated a cloaking service that allowed ads for a range of scams to slip through the advertisement reviews for both platforms.

Facebook’s accusations and request for relief

In a civil complaint filed with a federal court in San Francisco on April 9, the social media giants accuse Bassant Gaijar of operating LeadCloak, a software provider specializing in cloaking ads. 

Per the complaint, Facebook alleges that:

“[Gaijar’s] cloaking services were used to promote, among other things, deceptive diet pills and pharmaceuticals, cryptocurrency investment scams, and even misinformation about the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The current complaint asks for relief of an unspecified sum, as well as a permanent injunction to keep Baijar and his associates off of Facebook and Instagram.

What is ad cloaking and is it a crime?

Cloaking is a means of identifying readers of a site — often by IP address, geolocation or the URL that they are coming from — particularly to spot reviewers from sites like Facebook that ban certain types of ads. Cloaking then presents these reviewers with different information than what a typical user of the platform would see when presented with the same page.

Given that law in the area of disinformation is in limbo, Facebook and Instagram are charging Gaijar with breach of contract on the basis that he signed their user agreements. 

Facebook’s complaint alleges that Gaijar used at least four different profiles to operate since 2006. As of press time, Gaijar’s Facebook page seemed to be down. Conversely, LeadCloak’s website remains operational as of press time.

Scam ads on social media

Facebook and Instagram and social media at large have had a hard time reining in disinformation on their sites. In February, billionaire Wissam al Mana filed suit against Facebook, demanding the platform identify who was behind ads selling Bitcoin scams using Mana’s image.

In January, ads using British financier Martin Lewis’ image for crypto scams reappeared on Instagram, after Lewis settled a suit against Facebook for similar issues.