Facebook Inc. and its photo-sharing app Instagram sued four companies and three people based in China for allegedly creating and selling fake online accounts, likes and followers that were used for misinformation campaigns and other scams.
Starting in 2017, the companies marketed and sold fake accounts in large quantities through six websites with similar domain names to Facebook such as myfacebook.cc and 9xiufacebook.com, according to the complaint filed Friday in San Francisco federal court.
Facebook seeks to bar the companies from infringing on its trademarks and using domain names related to Facebook, a practice known as cybersquatting. The four companies, which are affiliated with each other and based in southern China, manufacture electronics, provide software and web development services, as well as register and sell accounts for social-networking sites, according to the complaint.
“Fake and inauthentic accounts can be used for spam and phishing campaigns, misinformation campaigns, marketing scams, advertising fraud, and other fraud schemes which are profitable at scale,” the complaint said.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has been trying to curb the spread of fake news and information after coming under fire for sharing user data with an analytics firm tied to the 2016 campaign of President Trump.
In China, Facebook’s social network has been blocked since 2009, which has pushed the company to pursue other avenues to gain entree into the country. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who has made China a priority, regularly turns up at gatherings and conferences in the country.
The four companies named as defendants in the China suit are 9 Xiu Network Science and Technology (Shenzhen) Co., 9 Xiu Feishu Science and Technology Co., 9 Xiufei Book Technology Co., and Home Network (Fujian) Technology Co. They are based in Longyan and Shenzhen. They couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The three people named in the complaint are Wei Gao, Zhaochun Liu and Zhaoping Liu. According to the complaint, Zhaoping Liu registered the domain names and managed the websites. Mr. Gao has been the chief executive and sole shareholder of 9 Xiu Network since June 2017. Zhaochun Liu, who previously served in that role, now manages accounts used to receive payments for that company. The three weren’t immediately reachable for comment.
Paul Grewal, Facebook’s deputy general counsel of litigation, said in a post on the social network’s website that it acts forcefully to stamp out fraudulent behavior. In the first nine months of 2018, Facebook and Instagram collectively disabled more than 2.1 billion accounts, according to the complaint.
“Inauthentic activity has no place on our platform,” Mr. Grewal wrote. “That’s why we devote significant resources to detecting and stopping this behavior, including disabling millions of fake accounts every day.” Facebook is seeking an injunction and $100,000 in damages.
In July, Facebook said it would set up an innovation hub in Hangzhou, home to China’s internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Facebook also inked an agreement with Chinese hardware company Xiaomi Corp. last year to produce a virtual reality headset only for the Chinese market.