Amazon Project Zero, will it mean the end of counterfeiting in this marketplace?

Project Zero is Amazon’s latest initiative to combat piracy on its e-commerce platform. A few months after its launch in Europe, we’ve reflected on the program’s scope and limitations.

... pirates hop from one online venue to the next. For example, when counterfeits begin to be removed from Amazon, they move on to AliExpress; and when we fight them on AliExpress, they move on to Wish.

For years, the fight against cybercrime has been one of Amazon’s main concerns. With over 2.5 million sellers on the Amazon e-commerce platform, numerous brands are witnessing the sale of counterfeit goods, an illegal activity which is difficult to combat due to pirates’ abilities to adapt their tactics in response to the introduction of each new measure designed to fight against the sale of counterfeit goods. With the aim of  wiping out the online sale of counterfeit goods, Amazon announced the European launch of its Project Zero anti-counterfeit tool, a protection service currently in the testing phase, on its e-commerce platforms.

Amazon’s Project Zero provides brands with the ability to take down counterfeit products in a self-service style, without the need for intermediaries allowing brand protection measures to be carried out much more efficiently. José Ignacio Carrillo, Head of Enforcement at Smart Protection and a veteran in the fight against counterfeiting, praises Project Zero as “an evolution in Amazon’s anti-piracy tools that will allow control over infractions more efficiently and easily.

Amazon and the fight against piracy in recent years

Project Zero is not the first initiative made by the e-commerce giant to fight cybercrime. In May 2017, Amazon had already revamped its Brand Registry, a help desk to identify and eliminate suspicious posts. This application was the first mechanism introduced by the American company to tackle the problem. The Brand Registry tools allow you, if accepted into the program, to register your brand on Amazon in order to manually request the removal of an infringing product or sale.

In addition to allowing the takedown of counterfeit products on the platform, it also allows you to track the sale of merchandise that uses third-party brands to position products in search results on the platform. For example, just as some pirate website managers pay for higher search rankings using unauthorized brand names, some vendors use popular brand names in their product descriptions, fraudulently attracting users looking for products from that well-known brand.

On the downside of the Brand Registry, the removal of infringing merchandise does not occur immediately: the speed with which counterfeiters upload new products onto the platform will normally be greater than the time required for the removal of the listing.

Two months earlier in March 2017, Amazon launched Transparency, a system based on the identification of products using QR codes. To participate in this program, brands must acquire a series of labels that include detailed information on the origin of the product (including the date and place of manufacture, expiration date, brand owner…). This label is applied to each product at the point of manufacture. Through this process, Amazon can identify and market only those items from brands that include the Transparency code, regardless of who the seller is.

Amazon Project Zero combines Brand Registry security (which requires that the brand be registered in the program) with the Transparency labeling option, but its differential value goes much further.

Machine learning, the Amazon Project Zero engine

Project Zero may not prove to be the definitive tool against counterfeiting, but it shows Amazon’s commitment to combat it on its online marketplace. To that end, Amazon has developed a series of algorithms aimed at detecting counterfeit products on the various Amazon portals in each country. Several technologies and algorithms automate this task by continuously scanning key data provided by the brands themselves, such as registered trade names or logos. Currently, the system scans over 5,000 million product updates every day to locate potential irregularities.

Project Zero involves both information collected about counterfeits through machine learning technology as well as that from brand access to eliminate illicit merchandise, enabling the tool to act proactively, capable of scanning, locating and eliminating whatever its artificial intelligence system may classify as a violation.

With this newly available solution, brands will have direct access to the means to remove counterfeit merchandise using knowledge about their own brand. Reciprocally, Amazon leverages brand expertise to strengthen its automated control systems.

Who can use Amazon Project Zero?

At the moment, the Amazon Project Zero program is only available to a limited number of brands, operating by invitation-only.

José Ignacio Carrillo at Smart Protection points out that, despite the so-called self-management functionality, “internally, Amazon monitors the use of the tool. If Amazon detects that the tool is being used for other purposes, it can remove you from the program.” This situation can occur if a brand reports genuine merchandise as counterfeit in order to limit the competition.

Amazon requires that the brands participating in this program to consistently ensure a high level of accuracy in order to continue using Project Zero tools. However, combating the sale of counterfeit merchandise is not a simple task, as it is a very large business of its own. According to Carrillo, “brands need professionals who know the terminology, possess training in intellectual and industrial property issues, have a background in the field, and who know how the platform works.” In addition, he points out that “counterfeits are not limited to the reproduction and use of a brand; designs and prints can also be copied, an equally harmful practice.”

Beyond counterfeiting in the marketplace

The sale of counterfeit products on Amazon is only part of the strategy used by cybercriminals. This type of illegal sale is often accompanied by other practices, such as promotion on social networks and deceptive websites that appear in Google search results. Carrillo, Head of Enforcement at Smart Protection, adds that “pirates hop from one online venue to the next. For example, when counterfeits begin to be removed from Amazon, they move on to AliExpress; and when we fight them on AliExpress, they move on to Wish.”

Whether on Amazon or on any of the world’s major e-commerce marketplaces, we at Smart Brand Protection are standing by and offering our expertise to assist with the tasks related to fighting counterfeiting and online abuse. We analyze the situation each company faces by monitoring all channels that might contain violations and issuing a tailored diagnosis.

As Trusted Partners of Google, we de-index the URLs that provide access to illegal content in a matter of a few hours. In addition, thanks to our agreements with the various social media platforms, we also take down publications and content which promote the sale of counterfeit merchandise. The combination of these agreements together with the potential offered by Amazon Project Zero allows us to combat brand infringements in online marketplaces across the entire Internet more effectively than ever.

Do you want to know if your brand is being infringed online?

Your brand could be at risk from counterfeiting and brand abuse online, request your free Brand Scan today…