Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced this Thursday, 16, that it has deactivated about 1,500 accounts linked to cyber mercenary companies accused of spying on activists, dissidents and journalists around the world.
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The suspended Facebook and Instagram accounts have been linked to seven companies whose services range from storing public information to using fake profiles to gain their victims’ trust and even digital espionage through hacker attacks.
Meta has unveiled plans to alert about 50,000 people who could be targets of espionage in about 100 countries by various companies, including some based in Israel, a leader in the cyber surveillance industry. The platform has also disabled related accounts on other Meta platforms.
“Cybermercenaries often claim that their services are aimed only at criminals and terrorists,” according to a statement from Meta. But “the targets are indeed indiscriminate and include journalists, dissidents and critics of authoritarian regimes, families, members of the opposition and human rights activists,” the text states.
Companies that sell “web intelligence services” typically initiate a surveillance process by collecting information available through public sources such as newspaper articles and Wikipedia.
Thus, cybermercenaries create fake accounts on various social networks to collect profile information and even participate in conversations and groups to learn more about their targets, according to researchers at Meta.