Crowdfunding

Indiegogo AI to crack down on copycats & criminals

By Kitty Knowles 12 September 2017
Indiegogo is exploring how it can use AI. Pic: Getty/ davincidig
Indiegogo is exploring how it can use AI. Pic: Getty/davincidig
Summary

AI crowdfunding? Now that’s something we’d back.

Crowdfunding has long been heralded the hero of indie businesses.

If you have a great product idea, it’s a risk-free way of raising funds without big bank loans or the hurdles of winning traditional investors.  

But even successful sites, like Indiegogo, can be marred by crooks, fake campaigns and criminal activities – which is as bad for everyday investors, as it is the reputations of honourable projects that are damaged.

Fortunately, Indiegogo has a new weapon it’s preparing to unleash: AI that spots wrongdoers in an instant.

“There’s a lot of AI testing going on right now to make it easier to identify bad campaigns,” Indigogo’s Head of UK & Europe, Joel Hughes, told us at Tech BBQ in Copenhagen last week.

“It can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.”

So, what’s Indiegogo’s problem?

With over a billion dollars of funds invested through the platform to-date, Indiegogo’s certainly hit the mainstream. But this also means the company now has to crack down on more fraud and unfavourable behaviour than ever.

“There are products that are fake, or where images have been digitally rendered or altered,” Hughes explains.

“And there are always people trying to raise money for groups that maybe don’t align with the Indiegogo ethos – extreme political groups, for example.”

Copycats campaigns (where people steal each other’s ideas and repost them), and impossible concepts are also problematic, he explains.

There’s no limit to the “ridiculous” promises people try to make, including “to bring dinosaurs back, to create a Jurassic Park style world.”

“There will always be people who try and work the system,” says Hughes.

Spotting clues

Right now it’s the job of Indiegogo’s trust and safety team (made up of around eight or nine real-life humans) to review campaigns and remove those that fail to follow company guidelines.

It’s a process that relies hugely on the community reporting suspicious activity (like when a shiny new social media profile is created to quickly launch a project, or a campaign unexpectedly reaches the magic 30% funded in a matter of days).

But today Indiegogo is already exploring AI techniques (similar to those used by Facebook), where it would analyse language or data for clues that expose crooks.

“It’s a really hot topic,” says Hughes.

“AI can have a huge benefit if we integrate it properly.”

Beyond being able to spot copycat campaigns, or projects with extreme political leanings, AI will also help with streamlining the more mundane elements of the site.

“We get a lot of the same requests or questions coming through to our team, AI can certainly help with that,” Hughes explains.

In the future, it could even impact fundraising success, by learning what templates and language work best for different kinds of projects (although Hughes admits this is “a little bit further away than everything else”).

Human-centric

For the meantime, it’s not Indiegogo’s interest in AI, but its helpful real-life humans that sets it apart from competitors, stresses Hughes.

“We do a lot of hand-holding,” says Hughes. “It’s rare you’ll find a platform that will give support before the campaign launches.”

Some campaigns receive dozens of emails from advisors to help them prepare the best campaign possible, he adds.

But this human-centric focus doesn’t mean the platform’s closed to new technology – indeed last year it launched equity crowdfunding in the US, and a new online marketplace.

“We’re so far away from reaching a peak with crowdfunding … we’re always innovating,” says Hughes.

Indiegogo’s artificially intelligent future is just one part of that.