Counterfeiting is a global issue that impacts the entire retail sector and threatens the well-being and livelihoods of consumers, innovators, and businesses. The Center for Data Innovation joined the Bring Down Counterfeiting 2022: Policy Hackathon on November 5, 2022, presented by the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University (TraCCC at GMU), Amazon, the Criminal Network Analysis Center and the National Crime Prevention Council to promote and engage new technological solutions designed to prevent counterfeiting. At the event, 11 teams presented advanced technological solutions, ranging from customer validation tools to AI computer vision software, with two keynote presentations on the impact and potential future of counterfeiting.
Over the course of three months, more than 280 individuals worked in teams to create policy and technological solutions to address counterfeiting online. Hypercube, the winning team, presented a six-part solution using a proactive web crawler, enhanced with computer vision technology, to automatically search online marketplaces for counterfeit goods. Marketplaces could also use the web crawler to quickly review infringement notices. Finally, the software triggers track-and-trace investigations and file takedown notices when it finds counterfeits.
The runner-up, A Solution for Counterfeit Medicine, developed a consumer-facing browser plug-in to help consumers detect and avoid counterfeit medicine. The browser extension crosschecks potential online pharmacies against the team’s database of legitimate online pharmacies at the local, state, and federal level. The tool also anonymously collects feedback from users and shares data with law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels.
Prior to judging, Dr. Louise Shelley, director of TraCCC at GMU, explained the impact counterfeit goods have on consumer safety. She noted that counterfeit PPE products left consumers susceptible to COVID-19 and increased confusion in the early stages of the pandemic. Shelley also expressed the need to view counterfeiting as a national security challenge and the importance of collaboration between government, academia, and the private sector to understand and effectively address counterfeiting.
Jose Santiago, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) delegate for the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime, Strategic Division, reiterated the importance of collaboration in a keynote address. He outlined how transnational organized crime has changed in the last decade and observed that “…it takes a network to defeat a network.” He also noted that U.S.-based law enforcement arresting counterfeiters on the ground will not stop a global problem. He underscored the need for global policymakers and government agencies to address counterfeiting as a transnational organized crime issue and highlighted the need for enhanced data-sharing and collaborative operations among the private sector and local, state, and federal law enforcement.
Finally, in a keynote address, Elaine Marshall, Secretary of State of North Carolina, explained the impact counterfeit goods have on local economies. In a keynote address, Secretary Marshall stated nearly everyone in the United States earns a living from some kind of intellectual property. She noted that fake goods increase illegal competition and decrease demand for real, trademarked goods. Counterfeiting is the largest criminal enterprise in the world. It accounted for more than $2 trillion in lost revenue globally in 2022, and leads to job loss across all industries, but particularly in manufacturing, supply chain, shipping, and the retail sector.
The hackathon served as a first stage for solution-based collaboration on counterfeiting. The first-place winner and runner-up received $20,000 and $15,000 respectively to develop their solutions, and participants were encouraged to work with sponsors to continue research. As speakers noted, counterfeiting connects national security, economic, and health and safety concerns. Stopping counterfeiting requires more policy interest and investment by government and industry.