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Anchor says it’s about stolen podcasts



Anchor, a Spotify company, is addressing the copycat podcast problem that has been preoccupying the industry for the past month. In an interview with The edgeMike Mignano, Anchor co-founder and head of podcast mission at Spotify, says the company is recalibrating its automated copycat detection system, implementing additional rules and reviews for people looking to monetize their show, and making it easier for developers to report copycats when all else fails.

Since August, publications like PodNews and Digiday pointed out that Anchor made it possible for users to upload rip-offs of legitimate, popular shows. People have found imitators of serial number, Nice white parents, and The Ezra Klein Show, among other. It appears that Anchor̵

7;s seamless podcast creation and distribution platform is being used in conjunction with its automated ad insertion tool for malicious purposes.

Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports, tweeted screenshots of copycats Call her daddy shows and asks Anchor to return their calls. Aaron Mahnke, host of several popular iHeart shows, tweeted last week that his new show, American shadows, was also copied and distributed via anchor. “We spent money, time and energy building something new,” he wrote. “And 3 weeks later someone else is ranking and benefiting from it.”

These anchor shows, as the legitimate creators point out, are completely separate from the real podcasts, but they appear to distribute the same audio content and potentially make money off of the work of the original creators. According to Mignano, the imitators are an unexpected consequence of the rapid growth and novel attack methods.

The copycats, Mignano says, found a workaround in Anchor’s detection system. “This is definitely a new type of attack for Anchor,” he says. The people who uploaded these copycat shows downloaded the audio from another source, manually uploaded it to Anchor, and filled in the metadata so it essentially appears like a new podcast.

This manual process, he says, makes uploading copycat shows more time consuming and therefore less engaging and only achievable on a small scale. He says the company found “a few dozen” examples from the 650,000+ shows uploaded to Anchor this year. (In contrast, users can also upload shows more automatically by adding an RSS feed link in Anchor. However, the company would apparently determine if someone tried to upload a popular show’s feed and forward it as their own.)

“The good news is that so many developers are using Anchor, and the growth is way above what we projected. That’s great, but I think the downside in this case is that with every fast growing platform that has brought this some growing pain, we need to better anticipate things like this, ”he says. “We’re working to ensure our copycat detection and outreach of creators keep improving to keep up.”

However, developers are especially excited about this attack because, unlike other podcast apps, Anchor allows developers to automatically monetize their show. This means that Anchor will insert ads and pay them based on the number of people who are listening. It is possible for copycat shows to piggyback the name and production quality of a reputable show in order to cash out. Mignano says Anchor didn’t pay any of the imitators.

“When we were notified that these podcasts existed and they bypassed our security measures to even create the podcast, we removed them immediately,” he says.

As part of the answer, he says the Anchor team is working to make sure that re-uploaded shows would not have received monetization approval at all. “Given that this is a new type of attack, we’re doubling down the permits for new shows that want to make money,” he says. “Some of these new guidelines have already been implemented and others will be available soon.”

While Spotify has made a name for itself in podcasting with exclusive offers, Anchor’s system is set up so that shows can be shared on podcasting platforms. That made the copycat problem an industry-wide problem. Copycat shows have reportedly been showing up in Apple and Overcast, among others, as Anchor allows creators to check a box to redistribute their RSS feed elsewhere.

Apple approves podcasts before they are cataloged. However, these imitators made it. Apple declined to comment on this story. Meanwhile, Overcast says it relies on Apple’s security system for its catalog. If a show goes through Anchor and Apple, it will end up in every other app that relies on Apple’s catalog.

Overcast doesn’t have an approval process of its own – it uses the existence of a podcast in the Apple Podcasts directory as a filter for whether it should appear in Overcast, and effectively outsources the approval process to Apple Podcasts, says Marco Arment, CEO and founder of Overcast The edge. “I can and can respond to any claims sent to me, but I get very few because Overcast does not directly approve or host podcasts,” he says. “However, the vast majority of claims I get are about anchor-hosted podcasts.”




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