City Of London Police Inserting 'This Website Has Been Reported To Police' Banner Ads On Websites With No Legal Review

from the that-seems...-dangerous dept

The City of London police have continued to take their bull-in-a-china-shop approach to “stopping piracy” (generally based on a near total misunderstanding of the internet) to it’s next level of ridiculousness. The police (which, yes, no need to remind us, represent a square mile in the middle of wider London, though, yes, it covers many big London businesses and financial firms) appear to have bought into Hollywood’s fable about “piracy” being the equivalent of “theft” and not being even remotely concerned about the possibility of collateral damage. Back in April, we noted that the City of London Police had been creating a “blacklist” for advertisers of “bad” sites. And, now it’s been revealed that advertisers are supposed to insert a ridiculous City of London advertisement on those websites in place of other ads.

Like so many poorly thought out “anti-piracy” campaigns, this one seems to be based on two faulty premises. First, that it’s somehow easy to determine what is a legitimate site and what is a “pirate” site. Second, that the thing standing between someone using such a site to get their content and going to an authorized site is just a bit of “education.” The “education” story has been floating around for decades and there’s basically no evidence to support it whatsoever. The idea that someone is going to go to one of these sites, see this ad, and then think “oh man, I had no idea, let me go to this other site recommended by the police instead” is just laughable. Even the idea that they’d read “this website has been reported to the police” and not laugh is kind of ridiculous. Hell, just the idea that the sorts of folks frequenting these sites even look at banner ads is kind of laughable.

In fact, some of us are so conditioned to ad blindness that it actually took a bit of an effort to get me consciously focus on the City of London Police banner ads in that picture — and I didn’t even notice the top banner until I was proofreading this post. Can’t imagine that’s particularly productive.

But the bigger problem is the one we brought up when it first came out that they were putting together this list in the first place. A totally non-transparent, one-sided system by which these technologically clueless police designate a site to be a “pirate” site seems ripe for abuse and harming perfectly legitimate sites. Remember, of course, the last time the legacy entertainment and online ad industry teamed up on such a list? It included tons of legitimate sites, including the Internet Archive, Soundcloud, Vimeo and BitTorrent’s corporate website. It also included a bunch of popular hip hop blogs and 50 Cent’s personal website.

One hopes that this new list will be put together with a bit more care, but you never really know. The industry has a way of declaring certain sites “rogue” despite them being perfectly fine. Remember, this is the same industry that tried to outlaw the VCR, the DVR and the MP3 player. It’s also the same industry that insisted that both Youtube and Veoh were “pirate” sites, though both sites won in court (not before Veoh went out of business though).

So what happens when the City of London Police put these banner ads on the next YouTube? Does that site have any recourse from this opaque and totally one-sided process? Do they get to sue the police for defamation? And, really, in what world do the City of London Police think they have any jurisdiction outside of a single square mile of land?

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Comments on “City Of London Police Inserting 'This Website Has Been Reported To Police' Banner Ads On Websites With No Legal Review”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

Exactly. Only lusers, tools, and idiots look at online advertising. The rest of us have Ad-Block’d it, scripted it, firewalled it, and other removed its odious presence from our view of the Internet.

(If you can’t survive on the Internet without advertising, you deserve to die.)

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Looks like a spam ad

I was just going to say this. ๐Ÿ™‚

So between people not believing the banner, people having banner-blindness, and other people using ad-blocking software, who in the world thought this was a good idea? And how much money did the police spend on making this decision, hiring a graphic artist, making the banner ad, and so on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

You forgot also how is the UK government going to enforce their rules on foreign corporations?

I.E. I just went to and turned off ad-block. The ads are served by which is based in Spain.

Is it going to be against the law in the UK to use ExoClick or Google for advertizing? I think perhaps all advertizing firms should just ban UK clients to preempt the government’s actions.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not really. This is replacing banners through some ad networks. When you buy advertising in a network, you aren’t paying for placement on a specific site. You’re playing for a certain amount of presence in a block of sites. The ad network can absolutely prevent your ad from appearing on specific sites while still providing advertisers what they paid for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So I guess the UK government is paying advertizing companies to basically advertize on those sites? I certainly wouldn’t want to loose revenue from a off shore government trying to mandate without any legal jurisdiction on which sites my ads are displayed…
After all as far as I know advertizing isn’t illegal in any state, unless you are in violation of local obscenity laws, like disagreeing with the king of Thailand. (John Oliver)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“So I guess the UK government is paying advertizing companies to basically advertize on those sites?”

No, the advertising companies are voluntarily doing this at no charge.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to loose revenue from a off shore government”

From their point of view, they aren’t losing revenue. This is an extension of something they already do: prevent ads from appearing on unsavory websites (porn, etc.). They benefit because larger, mainstream ad buyers don’t want their ads to appear on such sites so blocking that makes the ad network more attractive to those advertisers.

Michael (profile) says:

At least they have done a goo job in banner design. I mean you have the black background and checkerboard designs that are always welcome in a web page, you have like 6 different font sizes making it far easier to actually read the text, it was brilliant to make the words “police” and “website” a color that stands out much less than the other text.

It’s also super-duper that the website has been reported to the police rather than any possible illegal activity. We should start reporting all kinds of things to them: ‘Hey! Look! A storm drain cover!’ ‘Excuse me, have you noticed that bird?’

JH says:

How does this work?

Presumably, the City of London police aren’t paying infringers and other undesirables to share these messages for them? I mean, surely not??

So they must be being placed free-of-charge by the advertising networks.

Who presumably then must be confident that they can tell the page providers that the providers are in breach of the ad network’s ts & cs, if the ad network doesn’t want to be facing a hefty lawsuit for breach of contract?

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems like slander or something similar.

What would happen if the police sat outside the bank and told every customer that came in that the bank was a thief and they should do their banking else where if they knew what was good for them? (maybe some of the bank’s users are potentially criminals)

The issue I have is that you have an trusted organization with authority, and maybe respect, making a claim that may or may not be true. The result of such accusations could lead to personnel and finical hardship those targeted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't get mad, get even

“Does that site have any recourse from this opaque and totally one-sided process? Do they get to sue the police for defamation?”

I foresee a viral campaign as the planet’s websites all spawn mutated copies (whoa copyright violation but what the heck) of those cute banners with slight modifications (eg ‘Don’t close the browser page containing this website’ but I’m sure collectively we could all do better). After all the black is tastefully done and who doesn’t love a police logo all over their site.

Vel the Enigmatic says:


We are the City of London Police. Like our kinsmen over in New York, we enjoy overstepping our bounds whenever we wish and feel like it. There is no low we won’t stoop to: we will commit illegal search and seizure, we will commit to illegal practices with or without warrant and we will commit to practices that harm you financially and socially without any due process whatsoever, even if you’re outside of our jurisdiction, because we are the City of London Police.

Oh, but don’t worry, this is all for the good of the public, even though you never asked for or wanted this, because we know what’s best for everyone, and there is nothing you peasant worms can do about it. Have a nice day, and stay safe.

Disclaimer: All the aforementioned information is most definitely not a joke.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder if those with Ad blocking plugins don’t even get the banner.

My second thought is – This can’t be good for business for those advertisers. I also would imagine that any site that is getting these would stop using that advertising partner pretty darn quickly. Unless they are compelled by law (and there can’t be that many ad companies within London’s jurisdiction that would be affected, are there?), I can’t imagine why an ad company would want to include ads like this.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I can’t imagine why an ad company would want to include ads like this.”

I can. Many advertisers already use a system called “sunblock” to ensure that their ads don’t end up on sites that they (the advertisers) consider unsavory. This is really pretty much like that — it’s the type of thing the advertisers that the cops care about actually like.

Remember, the cops have two main stated goals for doing this:

1) To remove the air of legitimacy from the sites by preventing mainstream ads from appearing on them — and mainstream ads already don’t want to be there, so no problem on that count.

2) To deprive the sites of revenue

Anonymous Coward says:

i would like someone to state whether what the City of London Police are doing is even legal? did they ask for permission to insert their ads instead? and dont forget that the person in charge of all this is an ex entertainment industries employee, habd picked by Cameron, just as Obama hand picks his people for top jobs! every time they are proven to be bias and cause nothing but grief for people when there should be none!

John Fenderson (profile) says:


You’re absolutely right — but it doesn’t matter. The goal of the police isn’t really education. They don’t care if their banner is never seen. What they want to do is prevent the site from getting ad revenue, and if you’re blocking ads then the site isn’t getting revenue through you in the first place.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Much like other police and government agencies, they have exactly as much authority as they can make others believe they have. Whether that ‘authority’ has any legal basis is something that only comes into play once someone stands up to them and refuses one of their demands. Until that happens, they can pretty much demand anything they desire.

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