New Report Accuses Google and Yahoo of Funding ‘Pirate Sites’

A new report has linked two of the world's largest search engines to the funding of piracy-related sites. In the University of Southern California's Advertising Transparency Report both Google and Yahoo stand accused of funneling cash to the sites, which were picked due to their placement in Google's own Transparency Report. Also admonished in the report is torrent index SumoTorrent for their alleged operation of an advertising network.

adtransreportOne of the anti-piracy complaints of the entertainment companies that appears to be raising its head more frequently is how so-called ‘pirate’ sites are funded by “legitimate” business.

There are many ways that sites can generate revenue in order to keep going, but far and away the most obvious is by the placement of advertising. Most public facing sites carry adverts of some kind and it is the goal of entities such as the MPAA and RIAA to have these removed, either by placing direct pressure on advertisers themselves or through the agencies that handle them.

It will come as no surprise that due to them operating some of the Internet’s largest ad networks, search engines are high on the list for berating.

The latest pressure comes via new study carried out by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. Released today, the report aims to identify the online ad networks offering the most support to the “major pirate movie and music sites around the world.”

The top 10 list produced by USC notably features Google in the number two position and Yahoo at number six. Topping the chart is OpenX, a Pasadena company described by CrunchBase as “one of the world’s leading providers of digital and mobile advertising technology.” Web analytics and advertising company Quancast appears at position seven.

In order to compile the list of piracy-related sites, USC mined Google’s own Transparency Report for the sites that received the most DMCA takedown notices during the previous month.

In third position on Google’s report for most takedown requests is SumoTorrent. This torrent index also features at position four in USC’s report, with the university claiming that the site operates its own advertising network.

USC’s full list appears as follows:

1. Openx
2. Google (including Double Click)
3. Exoclick
4. Sumotorrent
5. Propellerads
6. Yahoo (including Right Media)
7. Quantcast
8. Media Shakers
9. Yesads
10. Infolinks

The university says that it used a bot to scrape Ad Network HTML identifiers from each ad in order to identify the advertising network responsible for its placement. Speaking with CNET, Google suggested the methodology might be flawed.

“The complexity of online advertising has led some to conclude incorrectly that the mere presence of any Google code on a site means financial support from Google,” the company said.

The report, which notes that it will continue to list the “top advertising offenders” on a monthly basis, states that major brands are not aware that their money is being spent financing the “piracy industry”.

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USC says the aim of the report is to help these innocent companies “steer their ad dollars away from sites that exploit film, TV and music artists for what appears to be criminal gain.”

“Whenever we talk to a brand about the fact that their ads are all over the pirate sites, they’re like, ‘Oh, how did that happen?’” said Jonathan Taplin, Director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. “We thought it would be easier if they knew what ad networks were putting ads on pirate sites — so they could avoid them.”

“We do not believe that government regulation alone is the answer to the Piracy problem, but rather that the self-regulation of major sectors like the online advertising industry could make it harder for the Kim Dotcom`s of the world to unfairly exploit artists,” Taplin continued. “We look forward to working with advertising agencies and networks in the coming months to address this issue.”

The report can be downloaded here (pdf).

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