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Instagram hashtags feed a thriving black market of illegal counterfeits: report

Instagram hashtags feed a thriving black market of illegal counterfeits: report
[Photo: Jack Sharp/Unsplash]

It used to be that if you wanted a Gucci handbag but couldn’t afford one, you would plan a trip to Chinatown and hope the right person whispered in your ear. Then, thanks to websites like Craigslist and eBay, it became easier to purchase a “Gucci” bag for $49, new, never used, with free delivery. While quality varied, the bags’ anonymous origins were perfect for the person who wanted a stylish handbag and plausible deniability. (“Oh, I bought it on eBay!”) These days, though, finding a quality counterfeit is easier than ever: Just head over to Instagram.

Selling counterfeit goods is illegal on Instagram, but according to a recently released report by data analysis firm Ghost Data, Instagram has become “the top showcase platform for counterfeiters” on the web, and anyone with an Instagram account has a doorway to a “multibillion-dollar underground economy.” As NBC News first reported, hashtags like #Replica (used more than 2.2 million times) and #MirrorQuality and #MirrorBag (variations of which been used more than a million times) make it easy to access, view, and purchase fake luxury goods, from faux Chanels and fake Valentino heels to counterfeit Hermès belts and Louis Vuitton handbags.

It’s so easy that in the first four months of 2019, more than 50,000 accounts posted more than 65 million posts and an average of over 1.6 million Instagram Stories every month trying to market their fakes, even though Instagram has high-tech controls and a self-reporting function that flags and removes content. According to Ghost Data, which pored over “about 4 million public content items published on Instagram [that specifically mention] famous fashion brands” using logo-recognition technology, as well as hashtag and keyword-specific searches, that shows a significant increase from the 14.5 million counterfeit-centric posts in all of 2016.

The report found that “the top brands featured in images and videos posted by counterfeiters” are Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci. When combined, the brands account for “more than half of counterfeit fashion items available on Instagram,” per the report, followed by Nike and Fendi, which were each the subject of 5% of counterfeit posts flagged by Ghost Data. Internet sales of fakes account for an estimated $30.3 billion in losses to luxury brands each year.

When reached for comment, Instagram sent this statement:

We want our community to have great experiences with businesses on Instagram and we take IP rights, including issues around counterfeiting, very seriously. We have a strong incentive to aggressively remove counterfeit content and block the individuals responsible from our platform. We have devoted more resources to our global notice-and-takedown program to increase the speed with which we take action on reports from rights owners. We now regularly respond to reports of counterfeit content within one day, and often within a matter of hours. Additionally, we continue to proactively fight against bad content, including content that may offer counterfeit goods, with sophisticated spam detection and blocking systems. Because many counterfeiters try to promote their services through spammy behavior, we’re able to quickly remove this type of content, even without a report.

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