BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 30, 1999 ISSUE
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Cyveillance: Helping to Keep the Web Honest


The idea hit Brandy Thomas and Christopher Young while boating on a summer afternoon in 1996. Working at the Alexandria, Va., branch of Mercer Management Consulting, they helped media companies that needed to protect their copyrights and trademarks. As they cruised the Potomac River, they figured the Internet stood to make a tough problem even tougher. To chase crooks trying to hide in the relative anonymity of the World Wide Web, big companies would need help. And the two friends decided that they were just the ones to provide it.

Six months later, Thomas and Young founded Cyveillance Inc., a sort of cyber-policeman. The company scours the Net for Web sites that sell product knockoffs, offer stolen content, or make defamatory remarks about Cyveillance clients. For example, the Arlington, Va., outfit uncovered $6 million of potential music-licensing violations in the second half of 1998 by fingering sites using songs without permission. Although the privately held Cyveillance won't disclose revenues or profits, its 40 clients include Ford Motor Co., Bell Atlantic Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.

CRITICAL GAP. Venture capitalists are hot on the startup, which has won $9 million in funding so far. They figure the company fills a critical gap since most corporations don't have the time or the software to monitor the Web. While they're otherwise occupied, sleazeballs can malign them by spoofing trademarked names on porn sites or slapping a brand-name logo onto a site that sells no-name brands. Says CEO Thomas: ''You need to understand at lightning speed how the other 800 million sites are affecting you.''

At the heart of Cyveillance's business is software developed by Brandy Thomas' 24-year-old brother, Jason. Cyveillance products search up to 5 million Web pages a day for logos, keywords, graphics, music, and video that are on sites where they don't belong.

Clients say the service is well worth the cost. Cyveillance charges between $30,000 and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for software and the Cyveillance personnel to run it. Before contracting for the service, Dell Computer Corp. was losing millions a year in potential sales to companies that used Dell's name or logo to attract customers. In another instance, Cyveillance found that some Web sites were swiping stories from the online version of the Washington Post. The benefit ''has more than covered our costs,'' says Caroline Little, general counsel at the Washington Post's Internet operation.

In a year, Brandy Thomas hopes 40 of the biggest 100 U.S. corporations will be clients, up from 15 now. For Thomas & Co., it looks like chasing crime pays.

By Susan B. Garland in Washington

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