Facebook sues software engineer for cloaking deceptive ads

Basant Gajjar's firm LeadCloak allegedly provided software to promote scams related to COVID-19, pharmaceuticals, diet pills and more.

Facebook on Thursday filed a lawsuit against an engineer whose firm provided software designed to circumvent ad review systems, enabling deceptive ads to run on Facebook and Instagram. The firm, LeadCloak, allegedly helped promote websites running scams related to COVID-19, cryptocurrency, pharmaceuticals, diet pills, and fake news pages.

The suit against LeadCloak's founder, Basant Gajjar, was filed in federal court in California. 

According to Facebook, LeadCloak violated Facebook's terms and policies with cloaking software, which gets around ad review systems by concealing the nature of the website linked to in an ad. When an ad is cloaked, the review system effectively sees a different site than the one an actual user would see. 

Facebook charges that LeadCloak's malicious software was also used against a number of other tech companies, including  Google, Oath, WordPress and Shopify. 

In addition to suing Gajjar, Facebook says it has taken technical measures against LeadCloak, including disabling accounts using its software. 

The lawsuit is one of a handful that Facebook has filed in the past year against people allegedly abusing its systems. Back in December, Facebook sued a Chinese company and two Chinese nationals for abusing the Facebook ad platform to run a malware scheme that also involved cloaking. In February, the social media giant filed suit against a data analytics firm that allegedly secretly harvested data from Facebook users. 

Meanwhile, since the COVID-19 pandamic began to spread in the US, a number of websites spreading misinformation have cropped up. In early March, Newsguard, a service that rates the credibility and transparency of web news content, reported that such sites received far higher social media engagement than authoritative sources of pandemic information.