Big data the key to cracking down on counterfeiting, says Alibaba

18 Jan 2017 , 7:23am

An innovative joint operation between e-commerce giant Alibaba and Chinese law enforcement agencies last year managed to shut down 417 counterfeit production rackets in three months.

The sting campaign, dubbed ‘Operation Cloud Sword’, has been heralded by Alibaba as a template for how big data will arm the fight against counterfeiting and other IPR infringements in the years to come. The operation applied complex algorithms and machine learning technologies to enormous data sets provided by Alibaba in order to pinpoint, track down and seize ¥1.43bn (approximately $208m) worth of counterfeit products across 12 provinces in China. Running between April and July last year, the operation also led to the arrest of 332 individuals suspected of participating in counterfeiting rackets.

Getting smart about detection

Alibaba’s machine learning engine, which gets ‘smarter’ the more data points it is exposed to, is applied to product listings data on e-commerce platforms and used to analyse over 100 individual characteristics for each listing, ranging from price and customer complaints to dispatch patterns, transaction records and even online shop decorations. This scan is able to pick up on data contained in images, not just typed text – a snag in the works for counterfeiters who often superimpose alternative prices on top of images of their wares. Another system runs a similar analysis of seller profiles, examining around 600 individual detection indicators. With the capacity to analyse hundreds of millions of data points per second, these systems rate products and sellers on a risk index ranging from 0 to 100 – with any score higher than 80 throwing up a red flag.

From detection to enforcement

Once suspicious goods and sellers are identified, an ‘automatic leads generator’ developed by Alibaba is able to cross-reference account data with national identity card details, information provided by internet service providers, shipping and return addresses and related accounts in order to help law enforcement officials locate online counterfeit peddlers in the offline world. “Counterfeiters are on notice,’ warns Alibaba’s head of global IP enforcement Matthew Bassiur. ‘We are using big data to help authorities identify them, their manufacturing facilitates and their distribution locations. Attempting to sell counterfeits online may well lead to arrest and imprisonment offline.’