A new phase of the StreamSafely.com anti-piracy campaign is underway. Visitors to the portal are advised that pirate streaming sites aren't what they seem and the content on offer acts as a smoke-screen for credit card fraud, identity theft, and so much more. But what about the entities behind the StreamSafely campaign; who are they and what's in it for them? Indeed, about that....
In the unlikely event people haven’t noticed, the internet isn’t what it used to be. In so many ways it has already surpassed our wildest dreams but in common with the physical world, threats to personal safety are inevitable and significant.
Online security is the headline theme of the StreamSafely anti-piracy campaign and this week the U.S. Government’s Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPRCenter) and Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association (MPA) revealed two new PSAs to boost the campaign’s visibility.
“There are piracy sites that appear legitimate and safe, but most are operated by global crime syndicates,” said Jan van Voorn, MPA’s Chief of Global Content Protection and head of ACE.
While that’s a fairly dramatic claim, at the highest level it appears to be true; it’s also entirely in keeping with the current drive to convince pirate site users there are much safer options elsewhere. That’s the foundation on which StreamSafely is built to ensure it meets its overarching goals. So what are those goals?
Through the prism and messaging of StreamSafely, the chief concern is to protect the financial welfare of consuming pirates and their families. Put much more bluntly, entertainment companies want to make sure that the people ‘stealing’ their content are kept safe and don’t have their private information unnecessarily exposed.
The most cynical might conclude that a) the campaign isn’t really concerned about pirates having their bank accounts emptied because b) its key aim is to demonize piracy through scare tactics and then c) wait for the signups to legal subscription services.
StreamSafely may have a straightforward message but the oversimplification above, convenient as it is, undersells the complexity of a campaign that is so much more.StreamSafely: How it All Began
The people who came up with the StreamSafely campaign and still run it today are collectively known as Ctam Cable Marketing Association Inc., or CTAM for short. As the current member list shows, cable marketing has considerable scope.
Around 2018/19, CTAM approached IE Network, a company that describes itself as “part intelligence agency, part newsroom.”
IE Network says that by compiling the best data, insights and information, it’s able to “transform research and strategy into precise messaging with the right voice and tone, driving powerful storytelling that inspires, educates and persuades.”
Under the heading The Cable Industry v. Content Piracy the story CTAM wanted to tell is detailed on IE Network’s website.
CTAM wanted to combat an escalating content piracy industry that was robbing legitimate content creators of their intellectual property and risking the privacy and safety of content users. The members of CTAM turned to i.e. network to educate themselves about the bad actors in content piracy—and its end-users—to determine how best to educate the public about the implications of unauthorized entertainment content and to discourage people from consuming it.
“What followed was StreamSafely.com, a website sponsored by CTAM with content developed by IEN. Launching in late 2019, StreamSafely.com has already achieved its primary goal: to help visitors get smart about piracy and how to avoid illegal content consumption,” the website reads.
In November 2023, the same story is still being told. Piracy volumes remain massive and as highlighted earlier, risks are increasing. These threats disproportionately affect casual pirates who are less likely to know that adblocking software like uBlock doesn’t just block unwanted advertising.
When correctly configured, uBlock restricts the ability of the most cynical sites to offload malicious code onto the machines of unwitting site users. As a result, their ability to make money is massively undermined and if that’s taken to its logical conclusion, time spent running a site for profit is better spent elsewhere.
Before we explore what else uBlock is good for, CTAM’s tax filings (designated as a 501(c)6 nonprofit) for 2021 make for a fairly interesting read: $4.93 million in revenue vs. $4.56 million expenses, $1.1 million in compensation for the top three executives alone, and then a key mission revealing action to mitigate piracy and password sharing.
That leads us to CTAM’s business priorities for 2023, including: “Protect revenue by neutralizing content piracy through consumer education site StreamSafely.com” (pdf).Can’t Study Pirates Properly Without Data
The CTAM website as a whole is an intriguing read but somewhat unfortunately, sections marked ‘Audience Intelligence Reports’ relating to the audience of StreamSafely.com are unavailable to the public. Nevertheless, it’s safe to conclude that visitors to the StreamSafely site are a useful source of data.
According to CTAM’s most recently published tax filing, in the last reporting period the marketing group spent $432,000 with IEN, the company it worked with to conceive StreamSafely back in 2019. The nature of the work carried out is unclear but since the company was previously asked to provide information on “bad actors” and their “end-users”, refreshed information may still be coming through.
Since CTAM also mentions an alignment of tactics with Digital Citizens Alliance, whose reporting is aligned with the MPA’s, not to mention many of CTAM’s own members, the entire project is surrounded by pools of piracy data, although the extent of any sharing is impossible to say.Campaign Data, Measuring Success or Otherwise
That leads to the question of how CTAM is able to measure the performance of the StreamSafely campaign, i.e whether visitors to the StreamSafely website (mostly consumers of pirated content, if the targeting is right) find value and that leads to positive changes in behavior.
From the very first visit to StreamSafely.com it’s clear that a number of technologies deployed on the site can provide the campaign with significant insight, providing those visitors aren’t running uBlock, which blocks most if not all of them.
With help from tools offered by The Markup, which describes itself as a “nonprofit newsroom that investigates how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society”, the nature and abilities of those technologies can be presented in no-nonsense terms.
The Blacklight Privacy Inspector had a look at StreamSafely.com and reported back with its findings.
StreamSafely has ‘only’ five ad trackers, less than the average seven found on popular sites. But while popular sites usually get by with three third-party cookies on average, Blacklight’s Privacy Inspector found almost four times that on StreamSafely.
“These are commonly used by advertising tracking companies to profile you based on your internet usage. Blacklight detected 11 third-party cookies on this site. Blacklight detected cookies for Alphabet, Inc. and Microsoft Corporation,” Blacklight’s report reads.
Other technologies on the anti-piracy campaign site include behavior analytics system, Hotjar. By recording website visitors’ keystrokes, clicks, mouse and trackpad movements, Hotjar allows website operators to view visitors’ journeys through their websites using heatmaps and videos.
Combined with Google Analytics, Hotjar is a very powerful tool and sensitive too, especially when considering StreamSafely’s target audience.
The target audience of the StreamSafely campaign consists of people who visit pirate sites, who are unaware of the potential dangers. The aim of the site is to inform those people of the risks and make them aware of legal alternatives. At some point, success can be measured by the transformation of at-risk free-loading pirates into consumers of safe, legal alternatives.
That may be why StreamSafely uses tools provided by TK Interactive because, after all, stopping pirates from consuming pirated content is only the first step in their rehabilitation journey. And now that the risk of their bank accounts being emptied has been eliminated, they can put some of that hard-earned cash to good use.
Welcome aboard and stay safe.