Facebook is facing calls to deploy facial recognition technology to block scam adverts featuring celebrities, after consumer campaigner Martin Lewis launched legal proceedings against the social network over fake promotions claiming his endorsement.
Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee investigating online disinformation, told the Guardian he would ask the social network to consider new ways to block fake promotions when the company’s chief technology office appears to answer questions in parliament on Thursday.
“Martin Lewis’s case highlights yet another failure on the part of Facebook to protect its users,” said the Tory MP, who leads the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. “The fact that the face of a man who has dedicated himself to aiding consumers to spend their money wisely could be used to defraud those very same people is something that Facebook should be ashamed of,” he said.
“Facebook is able to develop and roll out technology such as facial recognition to increase revenue,” he added. “These tools should be deployed, first and foremost to protect users.”
Lewis, who founded MoneySavingExpert.com, announced on Sunday that he is suing Facebook for defamation. He said one solution would be for Facebook to deploy the technology it already has in place to recognise the social network’s users in photos uploaded by their friends.
“They are the facial recognition experts, they should be able to recognise when they are being paid,” Lewis told the BBC, saying it is exasperating that he currently has to report each fake advert featuring his face on a case-by-case basis.
“I have put Facebook on notice. I don’t do adverts. Full stop. No company pays me to do an advert, I do not appear in adverts.”
Lewis said images of Virgin boss Richard Branson, plus Dragons’ Den stars Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones, are also often used to advertise dubious financial scams on Facebook.
Scammers use pictures of celebrities to grab attention, increase the number of clicks on an advert, and imply the public figure has endorsed the product or investment.
Many popular scam adverts have involved promotions for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Meaden’s website now carries a prominent warning that she has never endorsed any Bitcoin investments, while Jones has made it clear that claims he has backed a cryptocurrency business are “entirely false” following a spate of scam adverts.
A spokesperson for Branson reiterated his previous demand that the “platforms where the fake stories are spreading need to take responsibility” and said the Virgin boss believed the responsibility for stopping fake and misleading content being posted “should not fall solely on the shoulders of those high profile individuals being targeted”.
Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment on whether it would consider using its facial recognition technology to reduce the number of unauthorised scam adverts featuring celebrities.
Lewis also pointed out that several news sites reporting on his legal case, including the Guardian, had also been accompanied by misleading adverts featuring his image.
A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said such adverts featuring Lewis would not appear again in future: “The adverts in question were blocked this morning. We have asked our tech providers involved to urgently investigate how they passed their relevant quality checks.”