Online abuse, disinformation, fraud and other malicious content is growing and getting more complex to track. Today, a startup called ActiveFence, which has quietly built a tech platform to suss out threats as they are being formed and planned, to make it easier for trust and safety teams to combat them on platforms, is coming out of the shadows to announce significant funding on the back of a surge of large organizations using its services.
The startup, co-headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, has raised $100 million, funding that it will use to continue developing its tools and to continue expanding its customer base. To date, ActiveFence says that its customers include companies in social media, audio and video streaming, file sharing, gaming, marketplaces and other technologies — it has yet to disclose any specific names but says that its tools collectively cover “billions” of users. Governments and brands are two other categories that it is targeting as it continues to expand. It has been around since 2018 and is growing at around 100% annually.
The $100 million being announced today actually covers two rounds: its most recent Series B led by CRV and Highland Europe, as well as a Series A it never announced led by Grove Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Vintage Investment Partners, Resolute Ventures and other unnamed backers also participated. It’s not disclosing valuation but I understand it’s between $300 million and $400 million. (I’ll update this if we learn more.)
The increase presence of social media and online chatter on other platforms has put a strong spotlight on how those forums are used by bad actors to spread malicious content. ActiveFence’s particular approach is a set of algorithms that tap into innovations in AI (natural language processing) and to map relationships between conversations. It crawls all of the obvious, and less obvious and harder-to-reach parts of the internet to pick up on chatter that is typically where a lot of the malicious content and campaigns are born — some 3 million sources in all — before they become higher-profile issues. It’s built both on the concept of big data analytics as well as understanding that the long tail of content online has a value if it can be tapped effectively.
“We take a fundamentally different approach to trust, safety and content moderation,” Noam Schwartz, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. “We are proactively searching the darkest corners of the web and looking for bad actors in order to understand the sources of malicious content. Our customers then know what’s coming. They don’t need to wait for the damage, or for internal research teams to identify the next scam or disinformation campaign. We work with some of the most important companies in the world, but even tiny, super niche platforms have risks.”
The insights that ActiveFence gathers are then packaged up in an API that its customers can then feed into whatever other systems they use to track or mitigate traffic on their own platforms.
ActiveFence is not the only company building technology to help platform operators, governments and brands to have a better picture of what is going on in the wider online world. Factmata has built algorithms to better understand and track sentiments online; Primer (which also recently raised a big round) also uses NLP to help its customers track online information, with its customers including government organizations that used its technology to track misinformation during election campaigns; Bolster (formerly called RedMarlin) is another.
Some of the bigger platforms have also gotten more proactive in bringing tracking technology and talent in-house: Facebook acquired Bloomsbury AI several years ago for this purpose; Twitter has acquired Fabula (and is working on a bigger efforts like Birdwatch to build better tools), and earlier this year Discord picked up Sentropy, another online abuse tracker. In some cases, companies that more regularly compete against each other for eyeballs and dollars are even teaming up to collaborate on efforts.
Indeed, may well be that ultimately there will exist multiple efforts and multiple companies doing good work in this area, not unlike other corners of the world of security, which might need more than one hammer thrown at problems to crack them. In this particular case, the growth of the startup to date, and its effectiveness in identifying early warning signs, is one reason why investors have been interested in ActiveFence.
“We are pleased to support ActiveFence in this important mission” commented Izhar Armony, the lead investor from CRV, in a statement. “We believe they are ready for the next phase of growth and that they can maintain leadership in the dynamic and fast growing trust and safety market.”
“ActiveFence has emerged as a clear leader in the developing online trust and safety category. This round will help the company to accelerate the growth momentum we witnessed in the past few years,” said Dror Nahumi, general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, in a statement.