Kylie and Kendall Jenner are among the dozen influencers that BBC Click has discovered to promote the sale of imitations of Apple AirPods on Instagram.
The two celebrities have a combined following of 322 million followers.
Apple believes these cloned headsets may violate its intellectual property rights, but it is not pursuing a lawsuit against the two sisters.
However, the company has taken previous action against influencers that it believed were “knock-off” AirPods hawks.
Kylie and Kendall Jenner declined to comment.
Click’s investigation revealed dozens of social media influencers promoting Apple Airpods and Apple Watches clones.
Influencers do not keep the goods themselves in stock. Rather, they promote links to websites where anonymous vendors ship products directly from China.
Products can typically be indistinguishable from original articles at first glance, but they have different brands on the packaging and sometimes offer a poor user experience.
The promotion of such products can be considered a violation of copyright and trademarks under UK law, if knock-offs are considered fairly similar to legitimate items.
The national coordinator for the UK’s National Trading Standards eCrime team said that if influencers were found to promote knock-off products, they would first be informed of consumer laws, but if they continued, then “formal action” would be considered.
“We would be concerned that some consumers, influenced by the power of social influencers and the general appearance of websites, may be misled into thinking that they are buying authentic Apple AirPods,” said Mike Andrews.
Instagram itself has told the BBC that influencers must follow local laws and veterinary brands before accepting paid collaboration agreements.
Download the delivery
The sellers behind the products are known as drop shippers, a sort of intermediary who doesn’t make or see the products they sell and uses the influencers to promote them.
They generally buy their products from Chinese markets online and send them directly to consumers.
“You can do huge business without ever going to China,” Miami-based freight forwarder Kevin David told Click.
“I personally sent millions of dollars to China. I got millions and millions of dollars of products and have never been to China.”
He added: “Those Airpods, some of my personal friends make hundreds of thousands a month by selling them.”
Although legal, drop shipping is subject to abuse with reports of:
- products not delivered
- refunds not granted
- websites are suddenly closed
“All you need is an Internet connection and a website and you’re ready to go,” commented e-commerce analyst Sanchit Jain of the consulting firm Ender Analysis.
“The downside is that people get scammed, they don’t get what they pay for and they are fooled. It’s really the Wild West, especially because you are easily able to create a new store as and when you want.”
Apple has told the BBC that it is aware that drop shipping has contributed to counterfeit sales and has allowed bad actors to remain anonymous.
He added that his teams “continually adapt to the latest counterfeiters’ tactics.”
BBC Click surveys will be broadcast on the BBC News channel on Saturday and will also appear on iPlayer