Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why brand safety requires human and technological investment

By Peter Szyszko, CEO at White Bullet Solutions

The great thing about AI is that it tackles issues on a scale that lies beyond human capability. Certainly, mere mortals cannot detect, nor stop, the millions of pirate web pages created daily nor the billions of ads funding them.

This growing problem sits at the intersection of IP protection, brand safety and advertising transparency – and it can only be tackled using AI.

This is why our company has developed solutions using machine learning so we can address a global problem, assess billions of data points simultaneously and rapidly scale. We have brought on board a new team of machine learning experts in recent months to grow even faster. The fact is, highly dynamic pirated digital content is created at tremendous scale and funded by algorithms serving ads as fast as visitors load web pages. So unless you have a global army of people, AI needs to play its part.

The growing problem of piracy and brand safety

The advertising industry is still chasing its nirvana of right audience, right place, right time, right medium. Ads being misplaced and shown to the wrong demographic is not only an issue of wasted marketing spend but also a significant risk to brand reputation. Is your target audience really a pirate who wants to get content for free? The issue of advertisers working with pirate publishers raises other questions, too. Ultimately, pirate website owners are fraudsters who take ad revenue from malware and ad fraud peddlers: they steal content and ignore the rights of IP owners – do they really have the rights of advertisers in mind?

A cross-industry approach is needed

The Home Office estimates that the social and economic cost of organised IP crime to the UK stands at a huge £570m. What’s more, IP crime is known to support the activities of organised criminal gangs. Much of this is driven through the use of the Internet and sadly now funded in large part by digital advertising. We need a concerted effort by the advertising industry as a whole to reduce ad-funded IP infringement and to protect brands’ reputations and resources.

As a member of the IAB Technology Lab – a non-profit consortium that develops and provides technical standards, software, and services to drive the growth of an effective and sustainable global digital media ecosystem – and as a Digital Advertising Assurance Provider under the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) brand safety scheme, we know how critical it is to work closely with other tech organisations. Fighting the global threat from piracy requires help from others.

Only AI can cope with the scale of the problem

Detecting digital piracy, scoring websites and apps for piracy risk, and tracking the advertising funding it involves scanning millions of URLs and billions of ads globally. This requires vast datasets to build a deep understanding of piracy and advertising to stop ads appearing on pirate websites and apps. Fortunately, with the right technology today, it’s possible to demonetise the criminal publishers, keep brands safe and ultimately move ads to a safer environment.

But we can only do this effectively and at such scale using machine learning.

For us, technology assesses millions of web pages continually and scrutinises illegal content. It also identifies the ads appearing and how they got there. Thanks to the legal background of our company founders, we are able to add nuanced training to our machine learning capabilities. Our AI draws on a huge array of web and ad features and considers the relationship between advertising fraud, revenue, positioning, and effect on advertiser, mirroring the natural intelligence of humans.

Countering the negative uses of technology – what’s next?

Sadly, online piracy is evolving – and growing. Pirates are now exploiting the mobile app, Connected TV and OTT arenas. So we are scaling our efforts in the app ecosystems and we recently doubled the team of technologists and AI experts in our team, as well as Android and app specialists, whilst working closely with the key industry stakeholders, government experts, and the police.

Our philosophy is to use the most advanced technology to tackle digital problems. AI is a necessary part of our armoury.