by Jay McCarthy, Incopro 24 September 2019
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a source of wild speculation, sometimes verging on panic. If you don’t believe me, try typing ‘Will AI’ into Google and see the list of recommended search results littered with negative connotations.
Will AI replace programmers? Will AI take my job? Will AI destroy humanity?
While the answer to all of these questions is hopefully not, a lot of the criticism and focus on AI has so far revolved around if it will one day replace humans rather than how it is taking away a lot of the mundane and soul-crushing tasks that slow us down and make us grumpy.
One area where a bit of AI goes a long way is counterfeits – more specifically, to help keep them off the Internet, thus preventing innocent buyers from getting ripped off.
Ecommerce a breeding ground for counterfeits
The ‘supply and demand’ ecommerce model combined with the global availability of the Internet has made the sale of counterfeits easier and more profitable than ever.
Legitimate webpages, items and product details are easily replicable, and the sheer scale of the ecommerce market on the Internet along with endless domain names being set up every day makes it almost impossible for a person to manually check every single product and website.
As a result, the number of counterfeits appearing online has grown to an amount where manual searches have become increasingly futile.
And, as manufacturing methods improve and fakes become more convincing, they’ll eventually reach a stage where experts and the brands that made the original product will struggle to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.
Does Amazon have a counterfeit problem?
For the first time in its annual report, Amazon warned investors this year about the risk of counterfeits on its online platform.
Under the ‘risk factors’ section of the report, Amazon said: “We also may be unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies.”
However, Amazon’s recent work against counterfeits, including its Brand Registry programme, has proven to be highly ineffective, and the majority of what they’re claiming seems to be purely lip service.
Many brands are also still hesitant to let the marketplaces police themselves, and many smaller manufacturers can’t provide the staffing required to monitor the site for fakes on Amazon’s behalf – highlighting another possible use case for AI.
This should be a wake-up call to everyone. If one of the most powerful companies in the world has admitted that they have a problem, and are pessimistic about their current approach, perhaps it’s time to re-think the problem. Is this a place where AI can be used?
Can AI help catch counterfeits?
On the face of it, AI certainly looks promising.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, along with 20 other international brands, created the ‘Big Data Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance’ in 2017 – an initiative which uses AI to detect tell-tale flaws in product listings and customer reviews.
According to The Drum, early results using the technology showed a 25 percent decline in take-down requests and has closed down 230,000 IP-infringing stores on its sister website, Taobao.
And, despite admitting to a counterfeit problem, Amazon this year announced its Project Zero initiative to help combat the issue. The programme will use a combination of machine learning, a self-service tool and product serialisation codes to help brand owners fight back.
Countering the counterfeiters
While the war over counterfeits may never be over, it’s possible for enterprises and brands to gain the upper hand. By utilising intelligent anti-counterfeit systems, it is possible to thwart fakes at scale.
But it won’t work without the co-operation and participation of brand owners as well as the marketplaces that host them.
That’s why it’s vital for any company with products, content, brands or other assets that can be counterfeited to explore the options for how to best use AI to counter the counterfeiters.
AI technology can be specifically tailored to autonomously detect masses of low-cost, high-volume counterfeit goods. By analysing materials, colours, packaging and other key attributes to spot fakes, AI helps keep fakes off the web, thus protecting consumers and businesses from the scammers that want to rip them off.
Jay McCarthy is VP of Products at Incopro, which develops technology to protect brands and intellectual property online.
Incopro’s Talisman protects over 600 brands and over $200bn worth of client revenue, for some of the largest global enterprises.