Inside UK law enforcement’s plan to police brand safety

Focused on copyright infringement, Salway’s team is working with trade bodies like The Internet Advertising Bureaux (IAB)

The City of London police claims the brand safety crisis becoming a national news story was “fantastic” for the force in aiding its ongoing efforts to help tackle the murkier side of the internet.

Detective Steve Salway, head of anti-piracy operations, fraud and cybercrime disruption at the City of London police has detailed how headlines around ad misplacement have ultimately assisted the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) in its mission to remove the funding from sites that host pirated content.

“The brand safety crisis [becoming a big story] was fantastic for us to be honest, it did a lot of work for us. We were already trying to push this issue with advertisers,” he said, speaking at the Brand Safety Summit on Thursday (15 March).

“The message we’ve been pushing [to brands] for a long time is that if their ads appear on copyright infringing sites, then they could be appearing on something more serious like extremist content.”

Focused on copyright infringement, Salway’s team is working with trade bodies like The Internet Advertising Bureaux (IAB) and Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (Jicwebs), as well as brands themselves, to remove the ads from pirate sites.

PIPCU is trying to "apply the pressure" on brands through education and Salway said the Trustworthy Accountability Group's (Tag) benchmark study helped the police glean just how much ad revenue is linked to infringing content, and ramp up the ante.

Contraband content, which could encompass anything from a Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor rumble to a leaked Game of Thrones episode, had $111m of ad revenue linked to it in 2016 according to Tag.

The group estimated that without quality-control steps and digital piracy operators served only premium brands, pirates could have earned $213m in 2016. Salman suggested the $102m gap was a good indication that the actions advertisers were taking in the wake of the brand safety crisis were having a notable impact.

Despite PIPCU's best efforts, Salway admitted that in some circumstances there wasn't an appetite for brands to stop their ads appearing on nefarious sites, especially when illegal streams of events like Premier League matches draw in large audiences. For some gambling operators, he noted, that was an opportune market.

To this end, the City of London force has worked with the Gambling Commission to adjust their contract to ensure gambling brands are no longer authorised to advertise on illegal sites; a gesture that perhaps indicates how PIPCU wants to clamp down on other industries going forward.

While he praised the industry and its trade bodies for the work going on in this area, Salway did not go into detail about how UK law enforcement could double down on policing ad fraud.

Globally, marketers are anticipated to lose $16.4bn to ad fraud this year, with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) previously saying the practice is “second only to the drugs trade” as a source of income for organised crime, predicting it will cost brands more than $50bn by 2025.

Despite this, little has been done to prosecute those benefiting from click fraud. Last year a damning ‘Methbot’ report from White Ops which placed the cost of such activity to be $5m a day for advertisers was passed on to the FBI, but in the UK the IAB has confirmed it has no immediate plans to involve police in its Gold Standard initiative.

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