Slashing pirates' revenue streams, one ad at a time

ITProPortal spoke to Duncan Trigg, the man behind Project Sunblock, about the new initiative to display police warnings on illegal sites. How big is the problem, and will this new measure have any effect?

What's the history of the project and where does Sunblock fit in?

It's been 2 years since we've first started talking about PIPCU (Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit). I started at the top with Chief Inspector Bob Wishhart and the idea filtered down and created a situation where we've created the first police service in the world with a proactive stance on qualifying peer-to-peer and file sharing sites as illegal.

PIPCU started off investigating misplacement and revenue generation [through illegal advertising on these illegal sites, stopping copyright theft and people who are producing counterfeit goods.

Our role with them is part three of their five-stage process. When PIPCU have fully ascertained that a site is illegal it is put on the IWL. When that site is called by one of our clients as an ad, because we run on back of ad tags, that's how we work, we append pixels or wrap tags so that we can actually determine what the final destination URL is.

If that final destination URL is on the IWL we then serve in a City of London police initiative that cuts off the ad revenue stream, scares the users off and make them realise what they're doing is illegal and that they're being tracked.

It's obviously completely blind to who they are, but to the 17 year old sitting in his room that can be quite a powerful thing.

So is this actually blocking ad revenue?

The Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) have taken their time, but this year they've finally released their guidelines as to what qualifies as "brand safe" and created a situation in which publishers can have themselves audited to see if they're applicable and get rubber stamps and marks to say that they're a brand-safe environment.

There are two guidelines to do this; one, you need to be using a third party tech that has been audited by the ABC or you can use white and black list. Now white and black list are, to my mind, wholly ineffectual at both ends of the scale which is where most of the damage is done.

To go back to your question, sites like The Pirate Bay never actually list their inventory as "The Pirate Bay" because no one wants to advertise there. They tend to use masked URLs, dynamic URLs or describing their media as something it isn't to explain the level of site traffic. So if you blacklist The Pirate Bay it's completely ineffectual. It's only actually in the ability to find the final URL that we're able to block that.

We work with IBM and have these categories such as file sharing, malware and so on, the thing is, the actual percentage of the total on the Police's list is a tiny piece of the total traffic out there that's classified as illegal file sharing or malware, but that number is growing.

From a Business's perspective how worried should they be about appearing on sites like the The Pirate Bay?

It's two fold, if you're a broadband operator like Sky, you don't want to advertise on a site that provides free content. We've actually seen Sky content on illegal sites and these ads produce millions and millions in ad revenue for illegal sites. It also legitimises the site in the eyes of the user, as they see big brands advertised on the site.

There are now tools like ours out there that assist with brand safety. Group M recently came out and said that by the end of the year they only want to pay for impressions that are actually viewed and I think that's the demand side saying to the supply side "sort this out".

But I think the conduit for this being taken seriously and ad companies are starting to sit up and take this very seriously the fact that 33 per cent of the traffic that's inside the programmatic environment is actually non-human.

A lot of that is hidden in the traffic that users say "well I've got 50 per cent viewer rate then the other 50 per cent didn't come into view but if they'd scrolled down they would've seen it" which is a trading issue but we find that that's where a lot of the fraud hides.

So it's definitely the fraud side of things that are galvanising the reaction to all of this

Do we have any sense to the amount of money that's being lost each year to this traffic?

It's a very simple equation; if a third of the traffic within programmatic then a third of the environment is wasted. This is a multi-billion dollar issue.