With deep ties to the content industries, the Digital Citizens Alliance periodically produces reports on Internet piracy. It has published reports on cyberlockers and tried to blame Cloudflare for the spread of malware, for example.
One of the key themes pursued by DCA is that Internet piracy is inextricably linked to a whole bunch of other online evils and that tackling the former could deliver a much-needed body blow to the latter.
Its new report, titled ‘Trouble in Our Digital Midst’, takes this notion and runs with it, bundling piracy with everything from fake news to hacking, to malware and brand protection, to the sextortion of “young girls and boys” via their computer cameras.
The premise of the report is that cybercrime as a whole is undermining America’s trust in the Internet, noting that 64% of US citizens say that their trust in digital platforms has dropped in the last year. Given the topics under the spotlight, it doesn’t take long to see where this is going – Internet platforms like Google, Facebook and YouTube must tackle the problem.
“When asked, ‘In your opinion, are digital platforms doing enough to keep the Internet safe and trustworthy, or are do they need to do more?’ a staggering 75 percent responded that they need to do more to keep the Internet safe,” the report notes.
It’s abundantly clear that the report is mostly about piracy but a lot of effort has been expended to ensure that people support its general call for the Internet to be cleaned up. By drawing attention to things that even most pirates might find offensive, it’s easy to find more people in agreement.
“Nearly three-quarters of respondents see the pairing of brand name advertising with offensive online content – like ISIS/terrorism recruiting videos – as a threat to the continued trust and integrity of the Internet,” the report notes.
Of course, this is an incredibly sensitive topic. When big brand ads turned up next to terrorist recruiting videos on YouTube, there was an almighty stink, and rightly so. However, at every turn, the DCA report manages to weave the issue of piracy into the equation, noting that the problem includes the “$200 million in advertising that shows up on illegal content theft websites often unbeknownst to the brands.”
The overriding theme is that platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube should be able to tackle all of these problems in the same way. Filtering out a terrorist video is the same as removing a pirate movie. And making sure that ads for big brands don’t appear alongside terrorist videos will be just as easy as starving pirates of revenue, the suggestion goes.
But if terrorism doesn’t grind your gears, what about fake news?
“64 percent of Americans say that the Fake News issue has made them less likely to trust the Internet as a source of information,” the report notes.
At this juncture, Facebook gets a gentle pat on the back for dealing with fake news and employing 3,000 people to monitor for violent videos being posted to the network. This shows that the company “takes seriously” the potential harm bad actors pose to Internet safety. But in keeping with the theme running throughout the report, it’s clear DCA are carefully easing in the thin end of the wedge.
“We are at only the beginning of thinking through other kinds of illicit and illegal activity happening on digital platforms right now that we must gain or re-gain control over,” DCA writes.
Quite. In the very next sentence, the group goes on to warn about the sale of drugs and stolen credit cards, adding that the sale of illicit streaming devices (modified Kodi boxes etc) is actually an “insidious yet effective delivery mechanism to infect computers with malware such as Remote Access Trojans.”
Both Amazon and Facebook receive praise in the report for their recent banning (1,2) of augmented Kodi devices but their actions are actually framed as the companies protecting their own reputations, rather than the interests of the media groups that have been putting them under pressure.
“And though this issue underscores the challenges faced by digital platforms – not all of which act with the same level of responsibility – it also highlights the fact digital platforms can and will step up when their own brands are at stake,” the report reads.
But pirate content and Remote Access Trojans through Kodi boxes are only the beginning. Pirate sites are playing a huge part as well, DCA claims, with one in three “content theft websites” exposing people to identify theft, ransomware, and sextortion via “the computer cameras of young girls and boys.”
Worst still, if that was possible, the lack of policing by online platforms means that people are able to “showcase live sexual assaults, murders, and other illegal conduct.”
DCA says that with all this in mind, Americans are looking for online digital platforms to help them. The group claims that citizens need proactive protection from these ills and want companies like Facebook to take similar steps to those taken when warning consumers about fake news and violent content.
So what can be done to stop this tsunami of illegality? According to DCA, platforms like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter need to up their game and tackle the problem together.
“While digital platforms collaborate on policy and technical issues, there is no evidence that they are sharing information about the bad actors themselves. That enables criminals and bad actors to move seamlessly from platform to platform,” DCA writes.
“There are numerous examples of industry working together to identify and share information about exploitive behavior. For example, casinos share information about card sharks and cheats, and for decades the retail industry has shared information about fraudulent credit cards. A similar model would enable digital platforms and law enforcement to more quickly identify and combat those seeking to leverage the platforms to harm consumers.”
How this kind of collaboration could take place in the real world is open to interpretation but the DCA has a few suggestions of its own. Again, it doesn’t shy away from pulling people on side with something extremely offensive (in this case child pornography) in order to push what is clearly an underlying anti-piracy agenda.
“With a little help from engineers, digital platforms could create fingerprints of unlawful conduct that is shared across platforms to proactively block such conduct, as is done in a limited capacity with child pornography,” DCA explains.
“If these and other newly developed measures were adopted, digital platforms would have the information to enable them to make decisions whether to de-list or demote websites offering illicit goods and services, and the ability to stop the spread of illegal behavior that victimizes its users.”
The careful framing of the DCA report means that there’s something for everyone. If you don’t agree with them on tackling piracy, then their malware, fake news, or child exploitation angles might do the trick. It’s quite a clever strategy but one that the likes of Google, Facebook, and YouTube will recognize immediately.
And they need to – because apparently, it’s their job to sort all of this out. Good luck with that.
The full report can be found here (pdf)