In light of tightened anti-piracy measures on many online marketplaces, dealers, particularly in Asia, have begun to expand their sales channels to social media and messaging services. This often makes criminal prosecution nearly impossible.

WhatsApp, for example, is said to be quite popular among counterfeiters, as it offers a very high degree of anonymity and allows for deals to be nearly untraceable. This is due to the fact that communication with WhatsApp is encrypted and doesn’t require any user registration where user data must be entered. Instead, a telephone number is sufficient to use the app, start WhatsApp groups, and directly contact potential customers.

As WhatsApp is a messaging service and not a sales platform, no restrictions or control mechanisms such as those used by Amazon, eBay, or Alibaba are in place to prevent the sale of counterfeit products. The low costs additionally attract counterfeiters: The sometimes high fees that apply when selling on online marketplaces are entirely absent on WhatsApp. Many customers even perceive WhatsApp purchases as particularly trustworthy, as they have direct contact to the seller.

In order to attract customers, many counterfeiters are active on social networks and use means such as online photo albums to advertise their products. The Chinese photo network Yupoo, for example, hosts numerous pictures of counterfeit products. If the viewer is interested in a product in one of these images, he can find the contact information in the image description or the alleged photographer’s profile, which he can then use to make contact via services such as WhatsApp or WeChat. Data from Google shows that search queries for Yupoo, including those in combination with keywords such as „replica,“ have recently increased significantly.

Original manufacturers whose intellectual property rights are violated by the counterfeits are often at a disadvantage, as social media such as Yupoo do not see themselves as sales platforms and rarely take action against such content.

Other social media such as Facebook previously came under scrutiny as sales channels for counterfeits (cf. our German-language report).

Sources: World Trademark Review, live mint