Halloween season is soon upon us, and while you and your pals might dress up like pirates, real online piracy is no trick or treat. A troubling new report found that online criminals offering stolen movies, TV shows, games, and live events through websites and apps are stealing $1.34 billion in annual advertising revenues – including ads served by tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. 

Those three companies accounted for 73 percent of all major brands advertising that appeared frequently on piracy apps during the year-long investigation by the Digital Citizens Alliance and White Bullet, an A.I. consulting firm. 

What’s interesting, however, is that the researchers found a “recent significant decline in Amazon ads showing up on piracy websites and apps. This demonstrates that the issue can be addressed when a brand makes it a priority.”  

The report – Breaking (B)ads: How Advertiser-Supported Piracy Helps Fuel a Booming Multi-Billion Dollar Illegal Market – details a year-long investigation into how brands and advertising intermediaries help support the operators of illegal piracy websites and apps through the placement of ads. What’s disturbing for consumers is that these criminals offer risky advertising that exposes consumers to fraud and malware. The combination of piracy, malware, and fraud poses significant risks to Internet safety.

The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers: “If malicious software on the pirate app gets inside your wireless network, it may try to infect other devices connected to your network. That could put at risk the computer you use for sensitive transactions like online banking or shopping. It could also expose your photos and other personal information. The malware could allow hackers to:

  • Steal your credit card information and sell it to other hackers on the dark web.
  • Steal the log in credentials for sites you shop on and go on a spending spree.
  • Steal the log in credentials for your bank account and steal your money.
  • Use your computer to commit crimes.

Malware may also make your computer slow or non-responsive, serve pop-up windows or ads, or take you to sites you didn’t want to visit. If you want to avoid downloading malware when you stream video, don’t watch pirated content. Period. Not online and not through a video streaming device.”

If you believe in free markets, that includes fair markets. Stealing content is not only wrong and illegal, falling for the scam can be dangerous to the consumer and others. Just say no to online pirates!