Is Facebook Getting Away with Selling Counterfeit Crap?

By Luke Winkie


Photo Illustration by Alex Cook

The ads on Facebook’s sidebar make it easier than ever before to buy clothes, handbags and jewelry. Unfortunately, some say they also make it easier to sell knockoffs of name-brand products, even though Facebook officially bans ads for phony merchandise. In October, an NFL-apparel retailer in Albuquerque, New Mexico brought a lawsuit against Facebook for what it says is the website’s duplicitous inaction when it comes to advertisements for counterfeit jerseys. That lawsuit, which is still being litigated, brought a smile to Eric Feinberg’s face. Eric isn’t directly involved in the case, but he’s the founder of Fans Against Kounterfeit Enterprise (FAKE), a nonprofit organisation that aims to wipe out counterfeit jerseys. I called Eric to learn why he cares so much about knockoff sportswear.

VICE: How did you become an activist against counterfeit jerseys?
Eric Feinberg: I was handling social media for my PR clients, who were paying me to create word-of-mouth advertising via photo contests and comments through Facebook. I found that when I posted pictures of specific things, like NFL games, my photos were being tagged by sponsored ads for counterfeit jerseys, which would appear on everyone’s timeline. Facebook targets ads based on your preferences. So how could I, in good faith, handle a client’s social-media marketing when I know that my marketing would appear next to counterfeit ads? And when I would talk to these companies [who were selling legitimate merchandise] about these ads, they didn’t know what I was talking about.

It’s easy to say that counterfeit merchandise is really only detrimental to giant corporations like Nike or Reebok. Why should ordinary people care? How does it affect them? 
When you go on a counterfeit website, you are giving them your personal credit-card information. So if you feel it’s worth the money you save to give your information to a website out of China, then go for it. Privacy is a whole other issue. How are these ads showing up? Is my information being sold to China? Counterfeiting costs between 750,000 and 1 million jobs [in the US] annually [this number is disputed]. The consumers trust Facebook to deliver legitimate advertisements, and that’s not happening.

Do you think people who knowingly buy counterfeit jerseys should be held accountable?
The ones who should be held accountable are those who retail them. There are people who buy these things in bulk and resell them. It’s not against the law to buy counterfeit goods; it is against the law to profit off of them. 

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