Category Archives: Piracy

Reports Reveal Global Piracy Fueled By U.S. Advertising Income

Piracy sites around the world continue to profit from U.S. advertisers of all sizes, according to new reports released this month by Incopro (report link) and the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA – report link).

The former reveals that 88 percent of all income from content theft in the European Union (EU) is based on advertising revenue, while the latter from DCA confirms that global piracy sites still make more than $200 million every year from the ads they display to users.

 

Incopro studied the top 250 piracy sites used in the EU to come up with their headline figure. With almost 9 out of 10 of those sites relying on advertising as their primary source of income, it’s clear that ad money is the main reason for site owners to engage in content theft. In-demand music, movies and games yield more search traffic, which in turn yields more page views and clicks that translate to advertising income.

The DCA report provides more detail about what’s going on under the surface of the advertising ecosystem to allow this to happen.

Good Money Still Gone Bad follows up on the organization’s 2014 report, which valued the revenue from ads to piracy sites at $227 million. The new figure is slightly reduced, yet still in excess of $200 million and failing to show the substantial decrease that actions against global piracy should have yielded.

Global piracy ad funding infographic

 

With regular raids against such sites around the world and major action against leading players like The Pirate Bay, we should expect to see fewer piracy sites for advertising funds to flow into. Although larger sites made up a smaller percentage of the overall sample in this year’s report – and 40 percent of those from the previous study were no longer present – the overall revenue from content theft remained remarkably durable.

A large part of this comes from new sites entering the fray, particularly video platforms engaged in live-streaming. This occurs in real-time and can be very hard to track and shut down in the moment, which is obviously when broadcasting a live event is most profitable to pirates. The recent Mayweather-Pacquiao fight provided a troubling example of this, particularly on new (and ostensibly legitimate) platforms like Meerkat and Twitter’s Periscope. With the incentive to make money from ads and new, poorly regulated platforms through which to do it, it’s clear to see that initiatives against global piracy will need to cast a wider net in the coming years.

Taken together, these two reports provide a clear view of the ad-funded piracy problem. Incopro has shown that advertising is the key incentive for pirates to run their sites, while the Digital Citizens Alliance reveals the types of sites that are springing up and the big U.S. brands that are indirectly funding it.

Cutting off this supply of “bad money” and returning it to the pot for legitimate content sites will be a crucial part of the next moves to tackle global piracy. We can continue to play whack-a-mole with content takedowns and site raids, which is satisfying in the moment but ultimately a short-lived victory as other sites pop up to replace them. Remove the financial incentive, however, and we’ll see how many sites are willing to take the risk of running a site based on stolen content.

In Africa, Questions Over Connectivity and Content

While we often hear complaints that U.S. Internet access speeds lag behind countries like South Korea, Japan, and parts of Europe, it’s easy to forget that some areas of the world have little or no access to the online resources we take for granted.

 

In the global broadband speed league, countries in Africa lag far behind those on other continents, for example, and that’s only counting those consumers who can actually get connected in the first place.

That lack of connectivity is a driving force behind initiatives like Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s internet.org, which operate under the banner of altruism – delivering the Internet to those without the means or infrastructure to access it – but do offer clear benefits to the companies behind them. As Microsoft experienced for many years with Internet Explorer antitrust accusations, any attempt to be the sole portal through which a high proportion of consumers access the web is viewed dimly by regulators.

Highlighting that fact, questions have been raised in recent months about the intentions of internet.org in India, and whether Facebook is violating net neutrality by creating what many see as its own “walled garden” of Internet activity. Telephone companies are heading up this criticism, concerned that their services will be undermined by this low-cost alternative.

In Africa, by contrast, regulation is not as extensive as India, and the market for connected technology less developed. This leaves plenty of wiggle room for Facebook to insert itself as a primary provider of connectivity, with all the boosts that brings to its user base in countries across the continent.

But the question remains, is this a true connection to the Internet or just a window to Facebook’s take on what the web should be?

The company will, of course, argue that some connection is better than none, and they might be right. Even so, further issues arise when copyright enters the equation, as the continent has a significant piracy problem and Facebook is a part of that. Where as in North America we don’t really associate the main social networks with copyright infringement (early issues with Twitter’s Periscope service notwithstanding), links to unlicensed song downloads are frequently posted by bloggers in countries like Nigeria, where piracy is reportedly more common than legitimate music services.

If Facebook’s version of a connected world is going to become a reality, they clearly have questions to answer about the extent of that connectivity and the content that they allow to flow through it. It will be a tricky balancing act between providing wider access while restricting the availability of content that infringes international copyright. It must also convince existing providers and regulators that this type of service doesn’t give Facebook, or any other dominant Internet company, a backdoor monopoly to online access in countries where there are still large segments of consumers to win.

Stepping back for a moment, however, what many see as a concern could easily be turned into opportunity.

If legitimate content services partner with initiatives aiming to bring connectivity to new areas, good habits can be formed early on and piracy alternatives pushed to the margins of online access. Where as pirates got the jump on legal platforms in more developed markets – think Napster serving up music downloads years before Apple launched iTunes – those who provide reliable connections to get new users online can learn from those lessons and present legal content options to them from day one.

The race for Internet providers to enter developing markets is well and truly underway and, as always, the fight to protect copyright and curb piracy will be right behind it.

Geo-dodging Thrusts VPNs Into the Global Piracy Debate

Earlier this year we looked at the growing trend of geo-dodging, a process whereby a user in one country can use a server in another country to access content with geographical release restrictions.

The act uses virtual private network (VPN) providers to bypass the online footprint that would otherwise flag their general location and raise the access limitations requested by rights holders.

 

Up to now, geo-dodging has been a secondary concern in the fight against piracy. Now, though, we see cases in New Zealand of television companies threatening to sue VPN services, bringing the trend to the front of technology and intellectual property headlines. Four of New Zealand’s most prominent media companies, SKY, TVNZ, Lightbox and MediaWorks, have joined together to deliver warning letters to VPNs and the internet service providers (ISPs) who enable their user activity.

While geo-dodging has frustrated companies like Netflix, which is known around the world but not available in all major markets, the greater focus has been on fighting direct piracy activity, such as unlicensed file-sharing, torrents and pre-release leaks.

Users getting around geographical content restrictions fell further down the list for two reasons: 1) the technology to accomplish geo-dodging was either not widely available to, or understood by, a majority of users, and 2) often it involves a paying subscriber in one country, so at least there is a sense that content is paid for, even if it isn’t authorized.

In other cases, such as US residents accessing the BBC’s UK-based iPlayer service, the issue is further blurred by the fact that the state broadcaster does not directly charge for its platform, though British tax payers do fund the organization as a whole. At its most basic, though, viewers are accessing content that wasn’t intended for their market, wrenching control from rights holders, and therein lies the problem.

As VPN apps become more common, so geo-dodging on legitimate content platform becomes more of an issue for anyone hoping to license their content to others.

As this practice grows into the public consciousness, it comes back to the very simple concept that content creators and rights holders have the right to choose where and when that content appears. The fundamentals of the licensing system – the market place through which creators can set a value for their content and allow others to use it based on demand, or simply artistic vision –  require that restrictions are respected by broadcasters, intermediaries, and viewers alike.

Though broadcasters and legitimate intermediaries tend to respect those restrictions and, indeed, pay a premium when they want to remove them, piracy facilitators and viewers . VPNs will have to decide which side of the fence they’re on, and how long they can play the privacy card before the weight of intellectual property law gives them a more serious problem to deal with.

 

Australia’s New Copyright Bill Promises Action Against “Flagrant” Piracy

English: Australian flag seen flying in Toowoo...

Australian flag flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia is our location for the latest clampdown on content piracy, as the country’s government floats new legislation that would significantly expand the ability of rights holders to challenge sites that host their work without permission.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 proposes measures that would require carriers to block sites that are found to infringe on IP, or those who facilitate such infringement, with “flagrancy” or “disregard.” Such language clearly targets willful piracy, while offering a mechanism to flag infringement to services that are unwittingly being used to get around the law.

There has been some push back against the ability of plaintiffs to bring an unlimited number of blocking requests before the Australian courts to take action against them, but there are a number of checks and balances within the bill to ensure only legitimate complaints make it through.

First and foremost, the courts in which cases will be brought have significant room to interpret each claim on its own merits, or lack thereof. The legislation mentions “reasonable steps” in many sections, and grants judges the ability to “limit the duration of, or rescind or vary an injunction.” That provides a lot of space to send warnings, set expiration dates on penalties, and hear appeals based on improved behavior by infringing sites.

That last point is crucial, as a key part of intellectual property enforcement should be the ability for sites to realize their mistakes and rehabilitate to become legitimate content providers. As we’ve seen with the US Trade Representative’s “Most Notorious Markets” initiative, the mere act of flagging a site’s infringing activity can be enough to prompt a change. When attached to a court order and the threat of operations being curtailed, the law starts to give rights holders some legal bite, where in many cases they have only the bark of flagging piracy and hoping intermediaries will take care of the rest.

In Australia and around the world piracy really comes down to two camps, those who intentionally host infringing content for their own profit, and those who run a service that is abused by others to host said content. For the former, the examples of Megaupload and The Pirate Bay are the path that lies ahead, being pursued across the globe until illegal operations are shut down.

For those who lie in the more gray area of intermediary, there must be a process that raises the question of a piracy problem and requires the operation to act promptly to remedy it. Stamping out piracy on any platform, in Australia or hosted further afield, sets the stage for online carriers to run a completely legitimate service that operates on the right side of copyright law and attracts reliable investment on that basis.

When infringement is flagged but a service still opts to look the other way, or fight legal action, that’s where the line is crossed between being “unwitting,” and moves into the “flagrant” piracy that Australia’s new legislation will take aim at, should it pass into law. In that case, the number of block requests is of little concern.

What really matters is how any service accused of infringement makes its case, and how quickly it acts to remedy the piracy problem, if and when the court rules that one exists. Creators have neither the time, nor the inclination to spend filing for the removal of content from legitimate sites. For any situations where such examples slip through, it’s only right and proper that a trusted legal system be brought into play to dismiss the case.

Additional powers for creators to protect their intellectual property, balanced by the ability of a court to hear their complaints and judge them against the country’s legal framework. Beyond the usual scaremongering that occurs by those afraid of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, such legislation should be welcomed with open arms by anyone who respects creativity and the intellectual property rights that come with it.

Fleeing Authorities, Piracy’s Latest Poster Child Bounces Around the World

You may remember Popcorn Time, the initially innocent-looking app that gained attention (then notoriety) last year when the headlines labeled it “Netflix for Pirates.”

Although that early version proved short-lived thanks to prompt action from rights holders, the site morphed into several other unreliable incarnations in the months that followed, sparking concerns about malicious code and a bizarre turf war between different groups of developers.

After a winter break from the media spotlight, aside from a frank admission from Netflix itself that such piracy sites provide significant competition to its paid service,  Popcorn Time appears to be resurfacing in a traditional manner: finding new countries from which to operate, at least until the nearest available authorities catch up with its operators.

Currently that means Europe, specifically Sweden, which is something of an odd choice given the recent spate of raids on piracy server locations in that country. It’s also strange as the service has been removed on another occasion by EURid, the European Registry of Internet Domain Names, which should really send Popcorn Time’s operators running for further flung lands than Scandinavia.

If it followed the path of The Pirate Bay, for example, there would be stops at domain registrars in exotic locations like the Caribbean and South America. That course eventually led to the site being shut down anyway and its owners serving jail time, so perhaps nowhere in the world can truly be labeled a “safe harbor.” That, at least, is something for which rights holders can be grateful.

Popcorn Time Google results

For anyone who can recall the name of the service, Google makes it easy to put pirates back in business.

As usual, Google has a role to play in curbing this piracy. Unfortunately, and also as usual, it seems that the search giant will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to act against a site that flagrantly infringes the copyright of creators big and small.

As the search results to the right show, Google currently puts Popcorn Time at the very top of its search results, helping curious viewers to hurdle one of the barriers to entry. With the more common dot com domain removed, would-be pirates at least have to find a working address for the site before they can begin ripping off titles. Google solves that problem all too easily, and rumors that the app will also be available for download through the official Google Play store will only make the company look worse.

Somewhat amusingly, in that same Wired interview with the anonymous operator of Popcorn Time’s latest incarnation, a different parallel is drawn with the world’s largest search engine. The source, identified only by the name of the site’s mascot, makes the direct comparison between Google and his own service, saying:

“We’re like Google, scraping for new content all over the internet.”

–‘Pochoclin’ of Popcorn Time

While the analogy has some technical basis, it would be harsh to lump Google into the same piracy bag as Popcorn Time, which positions itself to directly undercut legitimate streaming services. Google certainly has its fair share of work – and then some – to do in the fight against piracy, but its business is search advertising, not actively searching for and promoting pirated content.

But even with that indirect distinction, the fact that Google so frequently presents piracy sites, and by doing so legitimizes them, when users perform a search is enough to put the company on the wrong side of the fight. Between YouTube, Android, and its eponymous search engine, it could be argued that Google does as much to facilitate piracy as it does to curb it.

However much running around the world authorities have to do to pursue and prohibit the likes of Popcorn Time, it’s important to remember we also have some major intellectual property battles to fight right here on home soil.

 

Does ICANN Hold the Key to International IP Protection?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is a not-for-profit organization based in California, but charged with activities of global importance.

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for ...

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) head office, Del Rey, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a remit to preserve the operational stability of the Internet and provide appropriate representation for the international Internet community, developing policies that reflect this broad mission.

If that scope sounds wide, it should. ICANN holds a great deal of responsibility, on a technical level especially, operating servers that underpin Internet standards and managing major developments, such as the recent roll out of new top level domains around the world (why you’re seeing New York firms jump the .com ship for .nyc domain, and many artists adopting a .music address).

Indeed, what ICANN should and should not be involved with is an ongoing debate, as evidenced by recent concerns over its ability to cut off domains facilitating copyright infringement and other fraudulent activity.

Letters from the MPAA and RIAA asking ICANN to do more were last month labeled as requests for the organization to start “policing the Internet.” Again, this is a huge overstatement, designed to instill fear in the general public that studios and record labels are out to get them.

But this is a general request to bring ICANN on the side of creators and help to protect their rights. The organizations that represent them have simply asked that ICANN react to the “use of domain names for illegal and abusive activities, including those related to IP infringement.”  Essentially, this is a request to enforce laws that already exist and leverage their position to do more across international boundaries, where individual nations can run into bureaucratic barriers, depending on which other the country is home to the site infringing upon IP.

There is no concrete action in place, but the ultimate threat of taking a pirate or fraudulent domain should be a real one, albeit used . This is a move to align the ability of creators to protect their work by flagging infringement wherever it happens in the world and taking steps to remove it, not to arbitrarily take offline any site that is accused of piracy.

Basically, creators are asking that they be allowed to raise the red flag to ICANN for closer review, not push the red button on any site they flag.

 

 

Parallels to the Advertising Industry

There are plenty of scare tactics employed by open Internet activists when it comes to measures designed to curb copyright infringement. The ability to remove a site from global access is of course a significant power, but it’s important to remember why this occurs in the first place: these sites are stealing content for their own profit.

In cases like The Pirate Bay, the aim is so clear it’s in the name, so perhaps the public is less tolerant of overt piracy. When the lines are blurred by a mixture of seemingly legitimate business and hosted files that infringe copyright, however, there is a tendency to claim that those who own the rights to that intellectual property are overstepping the mark.

The reality is that any instance in which an online business claims legitimacy, yet hosts a large amount of content without permission from the owner, that business has a responsibility to police its own servers. If they neglect that responsibility, or simply choose to ignore copyright claims, the only recourse of IP owners in any country is to threaten to cut them off. As an entity with global reach to that end, ICANN is a logical organization to work alongside rights holders to make infringing sites aware that their online status is at risk.

There should certainly be a review process for any site that ICANN is asked to remove from its registry, and parallels can be found in the advertising industry, which just introduced a new anti-piracy and anti-fraud initiative with broad support.  

In this system, sites that host advertising are subject to various tests of legitimacy by an independent consulting body, before receiving a risk score that empowers advertisers to cut them out of their ad network selection. Cutting off this source of income from big brands is a real enough threat that any legitimate site worth its salt will work to clean up its act and request a review of its risk status. Meanwhile, the illegitimate sites that have no business model outside of ripping off original creative works will see a crucial source of revenue dry up.

There is no panacea to cure piracy on a global level, but it can certainly be curbed from sites that occupy the middle ground and simply need a nudge in the right direction. This works in some cases for the US Trade Representative office, as we noted in the case of its “Notorious Markets” name and shame report, and it will take organizations with global reach to effect similar

These initiatives need not be draconian, as so many activists automatically try to imply, but they must have sufficient teeth to spur infringing sites into action. ICANN is one intermediary that has the bite to help creators protect their work, while first using its bark to warn sites that are on its complaint list, giving them an opportunity to turn things around.

House of Cards Piracy Shows Why Legal Global Streaming Works

It’s a universal truth that where demand goes unsatisfied, piracy quickly follows. For the creative industries, there are high hopes that an equally predictable trend will unfold: where legal streaming services roll out, piracy quickly tails off.

It’s been a theme that characterized much of February for us, from the news that Norway, where streaming music services dominate, has seen a dramatic reduction in piracy, to the post-Oscars analysis of where Academy Award winning titles are available and how piracy spikes if they’re not.

House of Cards piracy is the latest example to underline this phenomenon, as season 3 of the Netflix original series prompted a surge in social media and viewing activity in markets where the platform is active, and soaring piracy levels in countries where it isn’t.

 

Season 3 was only released last Friday, yet unlicensed viewing in countries around the world already numbers in the six figures, with China heading the illegal access list at more then 60,000 downloads. That doesn’t begin to factor in a number of other methods of finding the program without paying for the privilege, as technology like VPN access helps viewers to bypass geographical restrictions and log in to the same version of Netflix made available to U.S. consumers.

Although there is also illegal access in countries where Netflix does operate successfully, not least the U.S. and United Kingdom, the general consensus is that any market will have some amount of residual piracy.

While that element needs to be tackled with more familiar education and enforcement tactics, promoting legal access channels and penalizing where pirates knowingly disregard them, the most promising new prong in fighting copyright infringement is rolling out legitimate streaming services in markets where they don’t currently operate.

In the case of House of Cards this would of course be Netflix, first and foremost, although it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the company licenses such a popular title to another service if it can’t get into the market itself. China springs to mind in the first instance, given the censorship issues and other red tape for American companies operating in the country, but there are enough other international markets in which Netflix isn’t being compensated at all for its hit production and would surely love to bridge the gap with licensing income.

Continent of Australia from space. Australia i...

Continent of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile it’s Australia that provides the most immediate case study of how introducing a legal viewing alternative will impact piracy levels. Frequently found atop the illegal viewing figures despite its relatively small consumer base, the country saw House of Cards piracy almost on a par with China.

Here, however, Netflix seems all set to launch this month, giving consumers almost no time to wait for the popular title and everything else that the company’s expansive archives will bring.

If Australians decide that convenience (and, we would hope, copyright) trump the awkward access of covert connections and malware-plagued piracy sites, then piracy levels should decline.  The experiment is ongoing, but the early results are promising that legitimate digital channels can connect viewers around the world to content they love, without having to resort to illicit and unreliable access points to get it.

 

Around the World, The Oscars Bring Out Piracy In All Its Forms

The Academy Awards is the crowning jewel in the movie industry’s celebration of creativity; the peak intersection of critical acclaim and mainstream recognition, if the winners haven’t already made waves with the masses.

Every year as the Oscars roll around, however, there’s also the shadow of piracy. As much as a win – or even a nomination – gives each film a boost on the international stage, it also prompts a spike in activity on sites notorious for their copyright infringement.

 

The phenomenon represents all that is wrong with the mentality of piracy, as well as showing copyright infringement in all of its forms around the world.

In the United States we’ve become used to the year’s piracy being communicated in terms of illegal downloads. Popular shows like Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory inevitably top the list of TV shows, while the year’s biggest box office titles show up with the same reliable frequency. The same contemporary measure and methods apply to The Oscars, where American Sniper headed the list of most downloaded movie in the run up to the awards show. Best Picture winner Birdman can expect to soar up that list in the weeks to come.

Further afield, where connections are less reliable and online access may be limited, more tangible forms of piracy persist. 

A report in the Tico Times explains how Costa Rica sees illegal copies of all the Oscar nominees spread onto the streets and into stores as fever peaks for the awards ceremony. From Birdman to Boyhood, Selma to American Sniper, all of the titles that should be gaining revenue as well as recognition for their varied creative talents are brazenly sold as bootleg DVDs.

This occurs not just on the streets, but in stores alongside other legitimate merchandise, some even with discounts for buying in bulk, making piracy as habitual as running to the grocery store for milk and bread.

Back to the original point, and the study that revealed the Oscars spike in piracy rates confirms just how global is this concern. The research by Irdeto finds Academy Award nominees and winners prompting rises in illegal viewing in all corners of the globe, with the top ten offenders including Brazil,  India, Australia, South Korea and several European nations.

Rory O’Connor, VP of Services at Irdeto confirms: “Our data clearly shows that the rest of the world is paying attention to the Academy Awards and there is significant demand for new movies… leaving room for pirates to take advantage. ”

The challenge for creators and the movie industry is to beat the pirates at their own game, getting out in front of passionate movie fans around the world and reminding them that the best way to support even more creativity in future is to pay for the films they love and the music they enjoy.

Making titles available in good time and educating viewers about release schedules is an important part of this puzzle, as is the ability of viewers to make a moral decision that piracy is an act that only undermines the very thing that draws them to Oscar winners in the first place: a desire to create visual stories that excite the senses and compel repeat viewing.

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope in a Bleak Russian Music Market

Russia isn’t normally the first international location from which we expect positive news on copyright protection, so when it comes we’ll take it in almost any form.

Logo vkontakte.ru

Logo vkontakte.ru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The positive in this instance is that the news involves VKontakte, the country’s largest social network and one that has come under substantial scrutiny from rights holders in other countries for its lax approach to preventing copyright infringement.

The negative is that the site is taking only the slightest steps towards rehabilitating its reputation, removing just one option that iPad and iPhone owners can use to access unlicensed content for free. The streaming function on the site allows any audio uploaded by users, including music that should be protected by copyright law, to be accessed across any device on which VKontakte is available.

Those Apple devices are now eliminated from that list, but it still leaves Android, Windows Phone, and any other computing device from which Russian citizens can log in to their main social network. That’s a lot of places they can still support pirated content, and not the most convincing move if VKontakte is trying to get in the good books of foreign rights holders.

The case itself is a microcosm of the wider piracy picture in Russia, where nods have been made to stricter copyright protection by the government but piracy remains a prominent activity.

As we reported late last year, the country made it onto the MPAA’s list of the world’s most notorious markets in terms of copyright infringement, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance has Russia blacklisted for similar reasons.

 

Vkontakte plays a large part in the country’s ongoing status as a rogue nation when it comes to piracy, providing a mainstream platform that presents content for free, without repercussions . If Facebook did the same thing in the U.S. it would be unthinkable, and we could only imagine the swift legal action that would bring a site of even that size to take swift action. To find a silver lining, though, we can at least say that VKontakte – and Russia as a whole – is slowly starting to move in the right direction.

Interestingly enough, the real motivation to become a legal player in a market that currently relies on piracy for its music and entertainment consumption, could lie just a fewborders to the west. In Scandinavia, the popularity of Spotify and other streaming services has coincided with a dramatic drop in piracy rates. Although it is early days for streaming, that success does seem to be slowly resonating in other markets around the world, pushing piracy to the sidelines in the wake of legal services that provide free and near-free access to unlimited music.

Flag of Russia

Flag of Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with Spotify eyeing the Russian market to the point of an eleventh hour decision to cancel its planned launch early this year, other services may see the potential to profit, even where piracy rules.

Spotify’s hesitance seems to be based on concerns for Russia’s economic stability and other regional concerns, but VKontakte already has stakes in that game and will play whether or not it looks to streaming music as a source of revenue.

Rumors abound that the company, owned by Mail Ru Group, has been in negotiations with major music labels in the U.S., which points to a plan rooted in more legitimate content distribution.

So even though the news is only lukewarm for the moment, the potential for legitimate streaming services to rush in and wash away piracy in one of the world’s most notorious markets for unlicensed content is much more encouraging.

Europe’s Safer Internet Day Casts a Broad Net Online

Yesterday marked the 11th annual Safer Internet Day, an initiative introduced by the European Commission back in 2004 to promote “a better Internet.”

Emphasizing more responsible use of online and mobile technology, especially among younger generations, the event enters its second decade in a significantly different tech world than existed at its inception. Faster connections and the rapid adoption of mobile devices means that far more people around the world are now connected and spending more time online than ever before.

Safer Internet Day

Against that unrelenting march of technology, the European Commission has continued to promote activities around SID and broaden the initiative’s appeal around the world.

 

A Broad Net for Online Safety

With its focus on young people and the way they interact with technology, the European Commission clearly sees early education as the most effective way to encourage better behavior online.

Covering everything from respect for others and understanding online dangers to malware and ID theft, the initiative quickly spread around the world thanks to activities like the SID blogathon and universal media interest in the subject. Even complex, constantly morphing challenges like illicit sites and the fraudulent tactics they use to make money fall within the remit of creating a better and safer Internet, though such issues will undoubtedly require more than isolated awareness programs to significantly reduce their threat.

Trustworthy Accountability Group logoCoincidentally, Safer Internet Day aligned with the announcement of a major initiative against malware and fraudulent online advertising in the United States.

The TAG program, entitled the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, takes aim at one of the major concerns for brand advertisers and content creators alike: the funding of sites that engage in copyright infringement  by advertising networks unable to control where their ad inventory ends up.

Although it might seem like the world’s biggest brands should have the resources to control exactly where their ads appear and, accordingly, which sites they support, the reality is that online advertising has been something of a crapshoot until now. Advertisers buy up space across broad networks that place their messages on a variety of sites, many perfectly legitimate but some with less honest business models. The latter often involves making content available without its creator’s approval, in a bid to attract users whose pageviews make the site money via the adverts.

Clearly, this is no good for either the brands, who want to maintain a trustworthy reputation, or the creators whose work is being taken as bait by such sites. Where Safer Internet Day intersects with this issue is the types of ads being displayed and the potential dangers that they can transmit. If it’s reputable brands being displayed by the rogue site, the user may feel more comfortable using it even though its content is fraudulently obtained. If that increased trust results in a click, not only does the site benefit from extra ad revenue, the user could easily be railroaded into downloading malware that damages their device, or adware that tracks their online activity for future ad delivery.

In either case, this is validation of piracy and privacy invasions by unintentional association. 

Even when household name brands aren’t involved, the content of the ads placed can be questionable, such as those that promote gambling or pornography, which clearly aligns with the European Commission’s goal to educate users about the dangers such sites pose.

Between the EC’s awareness drive and the U.S. ad industry’s new commitment to weed out , Safer Internet Day in 2015 becomes a rallying point for anyone seeking to improve the online experience of consumers and creators alike.