When we think about, for example, counterfeit goods or IP (intellectual property) infringement, we tend to think about the largest and most well-known brands. Everyone knows that somewhere counterfeit Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and other apparel brand goods exist. But malicious actors don’t just fake large brands, says Gediminas Rickevicius, VP, global partnerships at Oxylabs.
Just a few years ago, BIC began working with the US Customs and Border Protection due to an increased incidence rate of counterfeit lighters. These weren’t the kind we might think of, not like Zippo produces, they were the ones that cost a few dollars for a pack of four at a gas station.
If any product or brand has room for better margins, which is nearly all of them, counterfeiters will spring into action. They take advantage of the fact that many of the brands want to maintain their reputable image and use better quality materials than average.
Counterfeiters, on the other hand, will take every possible shortcut to extract additional margins, even if it is at the cost of consumers. Therefore, every brand, no matter how big or small, can be affected by counterfeiting.
Many of the counterfeit goods, especially popular options like clothing and footwear, appear in online shops. Various technologies such as web scraping can help companies discover these counterfeits. In essence, counterfeiting is enabled by technology, but is also fought with it.
Counterfeiting is a (criminal) industry
Another frequent myth about counterfeiting is that it happens on a small scale wherein a group of people has access to some machinery and, possibly, warehousing solutions. As the industry has likely exceeded $3 trillion in value, it’s clearly not just a few bad actors making knockoffs.
Additionally, many of the counterfeit products still require a larger scale to make shipments cheaper. In the BIC example above, the margins, even if counterfeited, for a single product are thin. Tens of thousands (if not a lot more) need to be made to have a reasonable impact on revenue.
Some less popular counterfeiting options require industry-grade gear to create. For example, according to the OECD, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and heavy machinery are all subject to counterfeiting. None of these would be possible to create (and convince an unsuspecting consumer) without equipment.
Unfortunately, the counterfeiting industry is advancing like any other sector, with new, inventive methods of faking products being developed every quarter. They use complex trade routes that facilitate documentation forging, repackaging and relabeling, and even the establishment of distribution centres.
Finally, counterfeit goods are usually not on the top of the priority list for customs and border protection agencies. There are much more forms of dire illicit trade that law authorities are focused on, so counterfeit goods have a greater likelihood of slipping by.
Fighting counterfeiting with technology
While counterfeiters use various technological solutions to create fakes, businesses can fight back against these efforts by employing their own measures. Brand protection is a quickly expanding business model that not only tracks various negative online mentions but can also help businesses discover counterfeit goods online.
One of the unintentional boons of the proliferation of online marketplaces is that they are also the most effective place to peddle counterfeit goods. Sellers, however, in many cases must use various linguistic mentions to avoid chargebacks (if the marketplace is reputable).
For example, many marketplaces will allow the seller to ask for a refund if the item they got was not as described, which includes counterfeit goods. So, the seller may be forced to mention in the product description or pictures that the item is not of the original brand.
Finally, counterfeits are often sold on classified ad websites where the platforms may be more lenient in their rules. Large ecommerce marketplaces, for example, will frequently remove counterfeits by themselves as they do not want to harm their reputation.
Even with these limitations, however, there are millions of classified ads all over the world. Evaluating each one manually would be troublesome. That‘s where web scraping offers a technological advantage to legitimate businesses.
Bringing web scraping to the forefront
Web scraping can scan thousands of pages in a short period of time and extract all of the content within each of them. Yet, applying web scraping in a brute-force fashion would be barely of any help as data teams would have to go through all of that data manually either way.
As such, many businesses use various search functions or parsing techniques to extract the data that’s most meaningful to them. Such an approach significantly reduces the amount of information that has to be analysed manually. In fact, with proper development support, companies can trigger automatic alerts when scrapers notice potential counterfeits.
For example, frequently used keywords some counterfeiters use when listing their knockoff products are “like [brand name],” “AAA quality,” “[brand name] lookalike,” and many others. Searching for keywords has numerous benefits, as counterfeiters are often forced to use them by various marketplaces.
Many marketplaces have buyer protection mechanisms in place, and they may issue refunds if customers buy a fake or counterfeit product. As such, counterfeiters will use some sort of specific language to indicate that the product may not be genuine or they are unauthorized to resell them.
Such a combination lends itself perfectly to brands that want to cleandr the internet of counterfeit goods. Additionally, a single listing may lead companies to investigate specific sellers further, uncovering a greater operation in place, and allowing them to levy legitimate legal claims to unauthorized sellers.
Finally, while web scraping used to be something that had to be developed in-house, maintained, and carefully utilised, but advancements in the web intelligence collection industry have made access to public web data much easier. There are numerous vendors that provide out-of-the-box acquisition solutions that are simple to implement and can be used to monitor thousands of pages without significantly cutting into budgets.
It should be noted, however, that web scraping does not perform the entire process on its own. While you can get a list of potential offenders in a nicely formatted CSV (comma-separated values) file, it’ll only contain links and keywords. A company still has to manually verify that the products are counterfeit.
Yet, web scraping provides a filter for the entire internet. Without it, companies would have to rely on people reporting counterfeits to them. With web scraping, you can instantly collect, even in real-time, all of the potentially fraudulent listings in one easy-to-parse dataset.
The author is Gediminas Rickevicius, VP, global partnerships at Oxylabs.
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