Fake Watches, Google, and Organised Crime

This site, as you'll notice, features Google advertising, the proceeds of which pay for the costs of content production and off-site server and hosting imposts for the numerous essays I've made available to subscribers. I think Google advertising is a good thing and it provides options to many people who chance upon this site while searching for internet deals on both new and vintage Omega watches.

Ever since I signed on to Adsense I have had a running battle with Google over the advertising of fake watches. If you call them replicas or homage watches, you're deluding yourself. They're out and out fakes, largely produced by the Chinese, and are a parasitic by-product of the hard marketing and promotional yards put in over the years by the manufacturers of authentic brands.

There is overwhelming evidence of organised crime involvement in both the production and distribution of fake watches. Chinese triads have cornered the production end and so-called reputable Chinese manufacturers knowingly supply these criminal groups with their movements. Organised crime in the U.S., Europe and other major centres take care of the distribution, mainly through on-line sites that constantly change their URLs and marketing platforms.

There is also evidence that the fake watch 'industry' is not as benign as people would like to kid themselves it is. Where big money is involved, the next thing to happen is for the low-life that control the industry to hire 'muscle' to protect their interests. This is particularly so at the distribution end where private investigators specialising in tracking the principals of these operations on behalf of brand owners have been threatened, beaten and in several cases murdered.

Now, let's get one thing straight. The selling and marketing of fake watches is illegal in most civilised countries that operate under the rule of law. The activities of criminal gangs - from the fraudulent customs inventories used to conceal bulk imports of fake watches to the money laundering that occurs to conceal the massive profits made from this activity - it's all illegal. If you buy a fake watch, you are supporting, and indeed an accessory to, all of the above. Same thing goes for Google.

By allowing a preponderance of text ads that advertise 'replica' watches in the text, Google becomes an accessory to all of the illegal activities sustaining the fake watch trade. I have contacted Google many times (and believe me its not easy at all to have any human to human contact with this organisation) to demand it does something about advertisements offering pirated and illegal product. Not a word in response have I heard from this so-called good corporate citizen. So I block every ad appearing on this site that advertises fake watches. But, because Google advertises in geographic regions, I don't get to see ads targeted to countries outside my own region.

There are two things I can do. (1) Pursue other options to fund the costs of running this site so as to move away from dependence on Google advertising and (2) subscribe to international campaigns that attempt to disrupt the distribution end of this sordid trade: hence my support of the "Fake watches are for fake people" campaign. If, in the meantime, an ad gets through please accept my apologies.

According to a recent world-wide survey (SEE POSTING BELOW), more than 66.4% of all searches for fake watches come from Google's home country, the U.S.A. The market is huge for this illegal activity in the U.S. Is that why Google won't act to use it's massive computer and software engineering power to filter these ads out? Is advertising revenue clouding Google's moral judgement and does the company somehow attempt to delude itself by preferring to view the massive distrubtion of fake watches as a victimless crime? Believe me, it aint!

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  1. gatorcpa4:58 am

    Hi Desmond,

    Great post. While I 100% agree with your premise, you've gone out of you way to single out Google, probably because that is whose ads you see on your site.

    Trust me, Yahoo, Bing (former MSN), eBay, Amazon, and many other web portals have the same ads for fake watches. Sometimes the crooks are able to manipulate the search engine software to "jump" legitimate, paid manufacturer website listings.

    It's kind of like the problem of computer viruses. You can fix software, but doing so creates more opportunities for gangsters to infiltrate the search system.

    I don't think the watch companies themselves should get a total pass on this. After all, it is their trademarks that are being infringed. Other than the one EU case involving Cartier vs. eBay, I have not heard of a single civil judgement against a distributor of fake watches.

    Once in a while you see video of watches seized at the border by Customs being crushed, but this is a rather rare occurance.

    The watch companies seem to be more concerned with controlling the grey market in legitimate watches (an issue for another day) rather than participation in the investigation and prosecution of the distribution of fakes.

    The FHH campaign is admirable and deserving of support. Frankly, it's preaching to the choir of people like ourselves, who are not going to be considering such fakes anyway.

    IMO, until the manufacturers become visibly involved in the defense of their own intellectual property, very little progress will be made in shutting down the distribution of these (not always) Chinese fakes.

    It's going to take more than a lone voice to become the wind of change.

    I wish I could be more positive about the situation.

    Take care,

  2. Hi Evan, I have to do this response in 2 posts as Ive generated too many characters!

    Thanks indeed for your comments.

    I agree completely with your view that Google is only one of the ‘villians’ in the cosy “harlot and deviant” relationships that appear to exist between the manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit product and some of our major e-Commerce players.

    I also agree that brand owners could do a lot more to protect the integrity of their trade marks and designs. But when we see eBay winning cases in the Anglo-Saxon courts, I wonder if they may demur at the enormous investment required to bring entities like eBay to account.

    The Tiffany’s case in June last year in New York was a shocking reversal for luxury brand owners. And it came after the drubbing eBay got in the French courts when it was ordered to pay more than $61 million to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA for allowing a tsunami of knock-offs to be listed on its sites. The Hermes case in France was also a minor blow for eBay (God Bless those pesky French!) and it preceded the New York court action too.

    The Tiffany ruling knocked on the head, at least for now, the notion that eBay was responsible for the counterfeiting undertaken by its sellers and sellers as agents under the contributory liability theory. What was really frightening with that case was the judge’s comments that eBay’s “business model would have been severely compromised had the ruling gone the other way”. Duh! Isn’t that what the argument is all about – a business model that allows massive criminality to occur with only a few token checks and balances?

  3. In London this month, we saw another set-back for brand owners in the L’Oreal case where the judge ruled that eBay was "not jointly liable" for trademark infringements committed by its users. L'Oreal had argued eBay was jointly liable for counterfeit goods and parallel imports sold on its website which breach its trademark. But the eBay defence that it was “SIMPLY a trading platform for consumers to buy and sell products” was accepted.

    In Belgium, and who would ever understand the Belgians apart from the Belgians, last year a commercial court in Brussels said eBay does not have to police its site to prevent counterfeit products from being sold. Of course, there may still be some grains of Hanseatic laissez faire opportunism in its commercial law statutes, or, they may have done it simply to offend the French!

    The Cartier case in New York was against the infamous Ben-Menachem crime family of New York who had to pay $1 million damages for selling counterfeit watches through websites and eBay. They were flogging counterfeit copies of almost every brand including Cartier. But they were never brought to account under criminal law.

    If I were a betting man, I would say that the odds are in eBay’s favour in countries where the invisible hand of Adam Smith (And his balmy and illogical ‘logic’ about human behaviour and markets) still guides those who determine mercantile law. I would expect to see eBay win in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and other ‘Anglo’ countries (although it got a smack in the head from the Australian Government last year when it tried to make all sellers use Paypal) and perhaps lose in the more societally conscious countries like France, and Central and Northern Europe.

    This is where my sympathies begin to turn towards the brand owners. The eBay business model, the Google business model, and the business models of all the other e-Commerce cowboys, will probably be upheld in courts where Capital holds sway over Commercial Morality. The outcome may well be that brand owners will be faced with the impossibly overwhelming burden of policing the current online deluge of counterfeit product - all on their lonesome!

    What I fear most of all is that we may be reaching a point in the Anglo economies where the trajectories of corporate immorality and organised criminality are soon to intersect. (Look at Enron, Worldcom, the whole Wall Street fiasco and its mirror images in other countries). With rulings that refuse to enjoin the e-commerce platform owners with the massive illegality and criminality taking place within their boundaries, I fear we will be able to make few distinctions between the two.

    I never thought I’d ever hear myself saying it, but let’s be more French about this :)

  4. gatorcpa5:39 am

    Des -

    I think the difference in our arguments stem from the fact that you are an idealist and I'm a realist.

    I know that from a moral standpoint you are correct. However, in ther real world, I've accepted the fact that these web-based companies will remain intstitutionally ignorant to the origins of goods sold through their website.

    The French companies seem to be enforcing their IP laws. However, attacking this problem at the retail level does little to solve the problem.

    So eBay pays some cash. And the real criminals laugh all the way to the bank. This may be "societally conscious" as you describe, but in reality, does it accomplish the goal of removing any fakes from the marketplace? I highly doubt it.

    The key to the problem IMO is with the criminal organizations that import these counterfeits into my country and yours. Once the fakes reach eBay and other non-web retail outlets, it's a case of too little, too late.

    Watch companies need to launch a vigorous lobbing of world governments to remind them of the obligation to enforce the criminal statutes regarding the importation of counterfeit mercahndise which already exist.

    Cartier and Hermes have done this with varying success. Where are the Swiss?

    If these companies make the decision that it is not in their best financial or moral interest to enforce their rights as corporate citizens, then I have no cause to second guess their decision.

    Oooh! I love a good debate!

    Thanks Desmond,

  5. Hehehe

    Evan, perhaps I am an idealist. I do recall that Mary Poppins had a certain allure when I was youngster, but I also believe that an ambit position stated often enough frequently produces a shift in reality.

    I can't find anything in your response in which to disagree. This, as you may appreciate, is a very unfortunate state of affairs!

    So, let's return to one of the original points of my post, and that was when I tried to stand up and be counted the system owner had structured its system in such a crushing way that dissent from stakeholders (people who help Google earn money and provide content around which they can wrap their ads) can be discounted. Further, if one wishes to stay in the system, a stakeholder must suppress his/her editorial rights and responsibilities and countenance the advertising of counterfeit goods, which, as I’m sure we both agree, is tantamount to being an accessory to criminal activity.

    Google doesn’t even afford me the right to take editorial responsibility for what appears on my site, because I cannot see the advertising that appears in other geographic regions. As it is, I must use the ‘Competitive Ad Filter’ to block these ads, a resource designed for commercial sites to block advertisements of product that competes with good or services provided by the host site.

    Google, of course, is a mutant of globalisation and the digital age, and this is the rub for me. It may be the offspring of a recent union, but its business model is pure nineteenth century. It projects, or seems to project, the morality of a Robber Baron: one-way communication; let nothing get between the merchant and his quarry; making money is a moral principle in and of itself; big means you can make your own rules, and so on.

    But, as I pointed out above, the issue that drove me to rail against the system was that, despite any efforts I made, as long as I stay in the system I must yield grin and bear content being placed on my site that one doesn’t see in newspapers and television and doesn’t hear or see in any other traditional medium. That is because it’s against the law to support such illegal activity through advertising.

    You’re right about pressure needing to be brought to bear on governments and enforcement agencies – the sooner, the better.

  6. Robert K. from Canada10:42 am


    Not my place to speculate or even ask what your costs are to keep this place going, but you may wish to consider "passing the hat" to your regular readership to help defray computer/hosting and other relevant costs. I think you would be surprised at the response. While I only stop in from time to time, I'd be happy to contribute a modest amount.

  7. Hehehe Robert youre a very generous man.

    yes Ive received a number of direct emails on this with suggestions such as making it a subscription site etc. But of course that would defeat the whole purpose which is to provide information sadly lacking and help anyone who happens to hit this site to make astute acquisitions.

    I would love to get some direct advertising and then I could do away from Google altogether and have a choice of only featuring the good guys.

    The main costs are around hosting and external file services, but I'm really reluctant to seek donations as part of the satisfaction I get is by volunteering my efforts.

    Thanks for your generosity!



  8. As a fellow blogger I feel your pain, Des. It pains me considerably when I see ads for fakes pop up on my site, and Google's reluctance or innablity to effectively combat it is making me consider dropping their ads altogehter too.

    You can do a little about it in a roundabout way by intentionally mis-applying the the "competitive ads" filter, but each naughty domain must be entered manually as they appear. It's an uphill battle.

  9. Yes, Rryan its tempting isnt it to drop Google altogether.

    Hopefully as the site builds I will get direct approaches. A couple already but not enough.

    Thanks for responding

    Cheers Desmond