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Eventbrite found hosting illegal events offering drugs and more

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Eventbrite, a renowned American event management company known for its stance against illicit activities, is embroiled in controversy, with over 7,400 flagged event listings for violating its policies. These listings span from peddling fentanyl powder without prescriptions to offering illegal services like Social Security number sales and escort arrangements in India.

Some listings even directed users to questionable online pharmacies, raising serious safety concerns, reports Wired.

While Eventbrite prohibits such content and claims a blend of technology and human oversight to fight them, critics argue that the platform’s algorithms actively recommended these illicit drugs.

Robin Pugh of Intelligence for Good highlights the ease of identifying such posts and points to similar issues across user-generated content platforms.

“I’m confident Eventbrite does not want to be hosting this on their platform—I’m pretty sure that that is not what they had in mind,” notes Pugh. “It shows that a lot of the platforms that haven’t traditionally thought of themselves as part of the threatscape have no idea how to monitor the content on their platform.”

After Wired contacted Eventbrite, the platform removed most illicit event listings. However, researchers believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem extends beyond flagged content, with an average of 169 illicit events appearing daily on Eventbrite. These events often masquerade as legitimate, luring unsuspecting users into potentially hazardous transactions or interactions.

Most of these event listings were designed for publishing activities online rather than actual events. Researchers found that most of these events were free; however, some tried to charge people to attend via Eventbrite.

A simple search consisting of names of controlled substances yields results on Eventbrite. These events are just a lure to redirect users to online pharmacy websites where they can buy substances without prescriptions. Such websites are in thousands, and you don’t need a doctor to buy any drugs.

Eventbrite believes these illicit events are spam attacks by a few third-party actors to divert traffic to their websites or other platforms.

“You see a lot of this: ‘easy, hassle-free, simple process, no doctor needed.’ That’s illegal,” said John Hertig, associate professor at Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Science.

Many events on Eventbrite also redirected people to private Telegram or WhatsApp chat groups. Researchers were able to identify up to 60 Telegram and 65 WhatsApp accounts. A few WhatsApp numbers appeared on over 123 event listings, which researchers identified as offering escort services.

These accounts have a presence on other social media, including Pinterest, Medium, Deviant Art, and AllTrails. The people behind these illicit businesses often attach short keyword-filled summaries to increase their likelihood of ranking better on search engines.

“Any site that allows a user to upload their own content will find these cyber criminals advertising, scamming, or using the site for their personal gain,” said Rachael Tobac, cofounder and CEO of SocialProof security. “Cybercriminals leverage the power of user-generated content (their own drug advertisement) to sell to folks who are searching for what they have to sell.”

Eventbrite believes that this is a coordinated spam attack by a “few” third-party actors to divert traffic to shady websites.

“Our investigation determined this is abnormal activity, a misuse of the Eventbrite platform, and based on our findings, Eventbrite did not profit from these listings, and there have been no finalised ticket purchases identified,” confirmed Chris Adams, CEO of Eventbrite.

In the News: X is removing the Likes tab to promote user privacy

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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