Meta, formerly known as Facebook, bans seven firms selling surveillance software and services. The products have been used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, politicians, and others. Firms claim their products aid in the detection of criminals and terrorists but were also used to target non-governmental groups. Facebook has removed 1,500 accounts linked to seven surveillance-for-hire groups. Around 50,000 Facebook users were targeted, social media company says.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, announced on Thursday that seven firms selling software and services that have been used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, politicians, and others in over 100 countries had been banned.

Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube, and Bluehawk CI, all based in Israel, were among the companies. According to a report provided by Meta’s cybersecurity team, Meta also took action against an Indian company called BellTroX, a North Macedonian organization called Cytrox, and an unknown entity in China.

The firms claim that their services and software are intended to aid in the detection of criminals and terrorists. Still, Meta claimed that following a months-long investigation, the social media giant discovered that the products were being used to target people who were not members of such groups. Creating phony accounts to search and view someone’s social media profiles and list of friends, connecting with people using bogus personalities, and fooling users into giving away their account information by getting them to click on dangerous links were just a few of the strategies used.

“Multiple Community Standards and Terms of Service were broken by the ‘surveillance-for-hire’ businesses we deleted and documented in our report. We have barred them from using our services due to the seriousness of their offenses. “According to the report, The firms’ clientele were not listed by Meta, although they comprised private individuals, law firms, and businesses, according to Meta.

The move is an example of how tech behemoths are retaliating against companies that sell surveillance software and services. In November, Apple sued NSO Group, an Israeli corporation, after Pegasus spyware was discovered on the phones of journalists, human rights activists, executives, and government employees, including at least nine US State Department employees.

Meta removed roughly 1,500 accounts linked to the seven surveillance-for-hire groups from Facebook and its photo site Instagram, as well as issuing cease-and-desist notices. According to the social media business, around 50,000 users were targeted. According to the alert, a “skilled attacker” may be targeting the person’s account, and users should be wary of accepting friend requests from strangers or conversing with strangers. After that, Facebook advises users to check their privacy and security settings to ensure their accounts are safe.

People who misrepresent themselves on Facebook to deceive others, including through false accounts, are subject to Facebook’s guidelines. In addition, according to the corporation, law enforcement agencies can use the platform to make legal requests for information.

CMT contacted the companies mentioned in the story. In a statement, Black Cube, which describes itself as a “litigation support service,” said it “does not engage in any phishing or hacking and does not operate in the cyber world.” CobWebs Technologies claimed in a statement that the company “operates entirely in accordance with the law and adheres to stringent privacy protection requirements.”

Ayman Nour, a former Egyptian presidential candidate, and Egyptian opposition leader, and an Egyptian exiled journalist who wishes to stay nameless were hacked with Predator spyware produced and supplied by Cytrox, according to Citizen Lab, a Canadian cybersecurity monitoring organization. An email sent to Cytrox was returned as undeliverable.

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