Report Reveals Hackers Earn Millions on Amazon, Facebook and Google
A new report from the Digital Citizens Alliance suggests pirate sites earn more than $1 billion in revenue a year, while pirate apps are good for another quarter. Some of the money comes from big brands like Amazon, Facebook and Google. While Amazon appears to be taking the issue seriously, the report sees plenty of room for improvement on Google’s side.
Most pirate sites and apps will not survive without ad revenue. This is why the advertising industry is considered an important partner in the fight against piracy.
Major copyright-holding groups are hoping to convince major players to stay away from anything related to piracy to drain infringing sites of their revenue.
Several voluntary initiatives have been put in place to facilitate this process. This includes the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an anti-piracy certification program run by giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Disney, and Warner Bros.
Despite the involvement of these major players, the problem persists. A few days ago, the Digital Citizens Alliance published the results of a study called “Breaking (B)ads”, which details the advertising ecosystem surrounding pirate sites and apps.
Over $1 billion in ad revenue for pirate sites and apps
The general conclusion is that there is still a lot of ad revenue in pirate circles. Based on data from 6,194 hacked websites and 884 hacked apps, the research estimates that pirate sites generated over $1.08 billion in ad revenue and apps added over $259 million.
Most of the money is earned by a small group of pirates. The five most popular sites have an estimated average advertising revenue of $18.3 million. For apps, that number is even higher, at 27.6 million.
The accuracy of these types of estimates can be debated, but it’s clear that pirate sites and apps can be very profitable. These revenues don’t just come from shady companies, big brands are also involved.
Big brands finance pirates
Fortune 500 companies, defined as “big brands” in the research, have paid out $100 million to pirate carrier operators over the past year. On pirate sites, the big brands finance 4% of all advertisements and for applications this percentage rises to 24%.
So far, most initiatives have focused on stopping big brand advertising on pirate sites. It seems to work, but the problem persists in the app ecosystem.
“One in four ads on hacking apps come from well-known companies. This move to apps comes after a concerted eﬀort over the past eight years by these brands to prevent their ads from appearing on illicit websites. emergence of pirated applications threatens to undermine this progress.
The Digital Citizens Alliance, which is partly funded by the entertainment industries, routinely uses this type of research to demand stronger anti-piracy measures. In the current report, he directly challenges several companies.
Amazon, Facebook and Google
The results show that big tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google account for nearly three-quarters of all Fortune 500 companies’ ads on pirate apps. As such, they are considered the main funders of the hacking ecosystem.
“This means that these three companies are supporting these hacking operators with potentially tens of millions of dollars in advertising on the hacking apps alone,” the report points out.
Interestingly, these three companies are all part of and “certified” by TAG, which is working to prevent this. The report highlights that, through TAG, Amazon took swift action to reduce ads on pirate sites earlier this year. Google, however, presents a different story.
Search sets Google apart
While Amazon and Facebook spend more on “pirate” ads, the research report singles out Google and devotes a separate section to the company.
“Despite a sophisticated and dedicated program to protect advertisers and block ads from illegal publishers, Google is a significant contributor to the piracy ecosystem,” the research notes.
“Google has paid hacker operators millions of dollars to place its own advertisements on their illicit hacking apps. not how he spends millions of dollars.”
In addition to advertising on pirate sites and applications, Google is also challenged for its role as an advertising platform. Through its ad platforms, the company also facilitates the placement of ads for third-party brands.
As noted above, Google’s technology role is particularly dominant on hacking apps, where Google CDN and Google Ad Tech serve over 50% of all ads.
This isn’t the first time the Digital Citizens Alliance has investigated the flow of money to pirate services. A previous study concluded that the pirate IPTV market generates $1 billion per year in the United States alone.
These types of studies aim to provide insight into the magnitude of the piracy problem. They are regularly cited by copyright owners in legislative discussions, and also help to directly lobby corporate names.
This pressure is also apparent from the final lines of the report, which end with a choice of Hobson.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the advertising ecosystem whether it wants to allow ad tech companies to serve both reputable brands and publishers and pirate operators, or instead require entities choose to be exclusively on the legitimate or illegitimate side of the fence.
“But after this report, turning a blind eye to the entities facilitating the funneling of $1.34 billion to hackers can no longer be an option,” the report concludes.
Originally published as ‘Amazon, Facebook and Google paid hackers millions, study finds’ with Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license.