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Meta says 50,000 people were targeted by ‘watchdog’ companies


Meta has banned seven companies that have targeted at least 50,000 people worldwide. The company also banned more than 1,000 accounts linked to these companies.

Companies targeted for removals include Cobwebs, Cognyte, Black Cube, Bluehawk CI, BelltroX and Cytrox. Facebook security researchers also identified an “unknown entity in China” that was “developing surveillance software” and using facial recognition software. The Facebook researchers did not say who was behind the group, but said the software had been used by “local law enforcement” in the country.

While some companies manufacture spyware, the groups use other tactics as well, including social engineering with fake accounts in order to gain access to the targets’ personal information. During a call with reporters Thursday, Meta’s chief of security Nathaniel Gleicher said that while there has been a lot of interest in “hacking for hire” groups like the NSO, the broader “watching for hire” industry is also worrisome. “One of the things that characterizes the surveillance or recruitment industry is indiscriminate targeting,” he said.

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Internet mercenaries often claim that their services and surveillance are meant to focus on tracking down criminals and terrorists. But our investigations and similar investigations … showed that the targeting is in fact indiscriminate and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition figures and human rights activists.”

Overall, Meta says it will reach “about 50,000” people from more than 100 countries that it believes are targeted by these companies. Facebook will recommend these users to revisit their privacy settings, and enable additional account security measures such as two-factor authentication.

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