Facebook parent Meta announced on Thursday the shutdown of some 1,500 accounts linked to "cyber mercenary" or surveillance companies accused of spying on social media users especially activists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition, and journalists in over 100 countries.
The Facebook and Instagram pages were linked to seven firms including India's BellTrox, with "services allegedly ranging from scooping up public information online to using fake personas to build trust with targets or digital snooping via hack attacks", an Agence France Presse report stated.
The other companies belong to Israel, a leading player in the cybersurveillance industry, North Macedonia, and an unidentified entity in China.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Facebook, told a press briefing that Meta is planning to alert around 50,000 users globally who may have been targeted by these firms.
Meta said it deleted accounts tied to Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube and Bluehawk CI — all of which were based or founded in Israel and North Macedononian firm Cytrox.
The revelations of this report come in view of increasing scrutiny of companies that provide governments with surveillance technologies. The firms, such as Israel's NSO Group Ltd, contend that they provide the tools to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies fight serious crime and terrorism.
However, these cyber mercenaries often claim that their services only target criminals and terrorists, said a Meta statement.
India's BellTroX allegedly operated fake accounts used in suspected efforts to hack people's phones or computers; the company targeted lawyers, doctors, activists, and members of the clergy in countries including Australia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Iceland, while, Bluehawk, one the targeted firms, sells a wide range of surveillance activities, including managing fake accounts to install malicious code, the Meta report said.
Some fake accounts linked to Bluehawk posed as journalists from media outlets such as Fox News in the United States and La Stampa in Italy, according to Meta.