Mobile Marketing Magazine meets Peter Szyszko, Founder and CEO of White Bullet
Mobile Marketing: Can you tell us how you ended up launching White Bullet in 2012?
Peter Szyszko: I'm an intellectual property lawyer by training, and I spent two decades working with Hollywood studios and software companies, protecting their content. And what I saw was that industries of all kinds needed help understanding exactly what online content is illegal and what is legal. There is a huge criminal economy of IP-infringing websites and apps, and it is largely funded by the programmatic advertising of unassuming brands. It costs them money, wastes their advertising and puts their brand at risk. Given the size and complexity of the internet, it is not enough for advertisers simply to use a block-list to avoid the internet’s dark corners. If you want to clear out the revenues that support piracy, you need effective, agile tools that deploy AI technology.
MM: What was your original vision or idea?
PS: To create those tools and sell that data to the people who need it. But also to make people realise that this was a serious problem, both in terms of the cost of IP infringement and the safety of the brands who are unknowingly advertising against pirate material. At the very beginning, I got on my old moped and shot around London, explaining this all day long. And we took on very credible partners who were also interested in this kind of crime and could help us demonstrate the very real need for products of this kind. One of the first projects we ever did was with the City of London police and the Intellectual Property Office in the UK.
MM: How close to that vision of the business is White Bullet today?
PS: We obviously need to evolve constantly to contend with a fast-moving, sophisticated threat, but we stay very close to that original vision, because the original problem we identified only grows. Our main customers are in three groups: IP owners that want to target enforcement against pirate publishers that are competing with them by using their content illegally; brands that want to track where their advertising is going, so that it doesn't appear on these high-risk publishers; and ad companies that need to filter these publishers.
MM: Have there been any pivots?
PS: I think there is always the temptation to pivot, particularly in the early days, when you are pitching your idea to potential customers and they are saying, “that’s interesting, but would you be able to do something somewhat different for us?” The danger is that you come away thinking, well, maybe we could build the product they want in order to win their business, and that is a great way to lose your focus. But I would say that our founding principles are still intact and we have been developing in a straight line, though obviously the world of online piracy evolves and so do we. A few years ago, online was all on the web, and now it is very clear that the new frontiers are elsewhere, in social media and particularly within the apps people are accessing through OTT, connected TV and mobile.
MM: So what is White Bullet’s specific USP or area of expertise?
PS: We are the experts in detecting online piracy: protecting content owners’ intellectual property, ensuring our clients stay away from pirate material and identifying how their advertising may previously have been exposed to it. Lots of companies might say they can do some of that for you as part of a general brand safety service, using static block-lists of websites or semantic tools, but this area is so extraordinarily fast-moving that the only way to be on top of it is with real-time scoring. We constantly trawl the internet in order to do that – we score and re-score more than a billion domains and apps for piracy risk every 24 hours – and we combine that dynamic approach with our legal expertise.
MM: What makes the business really different?
PS: While it might sound dramatic, we are very much engaged in a battle of wits with the pirates who are building this fraudulent ecosystem. They make a large amount of money, they are connected to organised crime, and they are both highly ingenious and extremely adaptable. One third of pirate publishers change domain, redirect or mirror – creating and inhabiting a copy of another site – in any given week. They mix legal and illegal content and dynamically inject pirate content – for instance, live football streams – into seemingly “safe” websites for very short periods of time, leaving hardly any trace. They are relentless and incredibly devious, which reflects the fact that this is a big, very serious business for them, and we have to inhabit that mindset and respond to it.
MM: What are your plans for the future?
PS: I’d say we have three key areas of expansion. The first of those is the ecosystems. For years, websites and apps accounted for most people’s experience of online content, but that is changing, so we're now also looking very hard at piracy in the in-app and connected TV/OTT environment. A lot of rights-holders haven’t even heard of it, and though there is now a lot of content out there in these channels, and a lot of advertising, there has been very little in the way of research and transparency. We are the first company to be able to track ads in-app, and that has been very illuminating, because it is clear that the piracy problem is already a profound one in the mobile world and through people’s connected TV and OTT screens.
Secondly, we are working hard on tracking promotions for counterfeits and pirate TV inside social media. And thirdly, we are doing the same for search results. Those are the three emerging ecosystem areas, and they are all developing fast – there is nothing static about what we do.