7 surveillance companies were based in India, North Macedonia and China

Meta has notified about 50,000 Facebook and Instagram users that they may have been targeted by seven private “surveillance-for-hire” firms.

“The global surveillance-for-hire industry targets people across the internet to collect intelligence, manipulate them into revealing information and compromise their devices and accounts,” Meta Director of Threat Disruption David Agranovich and Head of Cyber Espionage Investigations Mike Dvilyanski said in a blog post Thursday.

“They provided services in all three phases of surveillance chain to target individuals in more than 100 countries for their clients.”

These firms are located in Israel, India and North Macedonia.

In total, about 1,500 accounts linked to the firms and their customers carried out some combination of reconnaissance, engagement and exploitation, including posing as graduate students, journalists, politicians, film and TV producers and nonprofit and human rights workers and tricking users into revealing personal information or installing malware, according to Meta’s threat alert.

Meta banned the firms from its platforms due to multiple violations of community guidelines. It also blocked related internet infrastructure and issued cease and desist notices. The findings were shared with policymakers, security researchers, and other platforms.

Agranovich, Dvilyanski said that “To protect people against cyber mercenaries operating over many platforms and national borders requires a collective effort by platforms, policymakers, and civil society to counter its incentive structure and the underlying market.” “We believe a public discussion about the use of surveillance-for-hire technology is urgently needed to deter the abuse of these capabilities both among those who sell them and those who buy them.”

Meta filed legal action against NSO Group in 2019. This Israeli company allegedly used Pegasus spyware to target journalists via WhatsApp. The U.S. government blacklisted NSO Group last month.