Build vs. Buy: Five Things to Consider When Integrating a Trust & Safety Solution

December 6, 2023

Considering building or buying a Trust & Safety solution?

Here's what you should know.

The “build vs. buy” dilemma is a common decision-making process that organizations face when looking to implement new software solutions. This question often arises when an organization needs to enhance its capabilities, optimize processes, or introduce new functionalities.

In my work with Trust & Safety leaders of user-generated content (UGC) platforms and lately, with businesses who wish to implement generative AI applications in a safe and secure way, I find that this debate usually leads to 3 general approaches:

Build, Buy or Hybrid: Approaches

Why buy Trust & Safety tools

  • Specialization: As harmful content becomes more sophisticated, specialized companies with expertise in machine learning, natural language processing, and content moderation are emerging. Many platforms and products choose to buy these services to ensure safety and compliance without having to build a team from scratch.
  • Quick Implementation: When you have limited resources, buying a moderation service can be the quickest way to ensure compliance with regulations and maintain a safe online community.
  • Ongoing Updates: Purchased solutions often come with the benefit of regular updates that adapt to new forms of harmful content, a vital feature that could be resource-intensive to maintain in-house.

Why build Trust & Safety tools

  • Legacy Customization: Larger platforms like Facebook, Amazon, and similar-sized companies have legacy complex needs that generalized solutions might not fully address. These platforms often build their own moderation solutions, tailored to their needs.
  • Competitive Advantage: Advanced, effective moderation could become a key differentiator in the market, giving platforms an incentive to build their own proprietary technologies.
  • Not invented here mentality: Some companies possess a culture or mindset where they believe that internally developed solutions are inherently superior or more reliable than externally sourced ones. They prefer to build their own tools and systems, even if similar or adequate solutions already exist in the market.

Why choose a hybrid model

  • APIs and Custom Builds: Some organizations may use off-the-shelf products but extend their functionality using APIs, or even build specific modules themselves.
  • Consulting and Tailoring: Organizations may hire third-party experts to customize purchased solutions, effectively creating a hybrid model.

In my experience as a trusted vendor for hundreds of Trust & Safety teams, and previously as a part of Trust & Safety teams myself and a UGC platform leader with Trust & Safety needs, I would like to share my own framework, and the various considerations at play when choosing to build or buy a solution in this space.

Build or Buy: Five Considerations

1. Core product relevance

Question: Is this feature an integral part of my core product?

Insight: To ensure uniqueness and longevity, tools and features that shape your primary offering are often best developed internally.

T&S Perspective: For companies not providing Trust & Safety services, it’s practical to purchase specialized tools and capabilities from experts.

Recommendation: Opt for external tools that match your platform’s requirements.

2. Data privacy and vendor trust

Question: Will integration demand exposure to your organization’s confidential data?

Insight: Consider analytics tools as an example, historically, the trepidation surrounding data confidentiality and the considerable amount of internal stakeholders involved (GC, CIO, etc.) nudged many entities toward creating bespoke analytics tools. However, as tool evolution married with rigorous data protection protocols, the pendulum swung toward external acquisitions.

T&S Perspective: Content moderation tools embed deeply within user-generated data. Establishing trust with vendors processing such data is non-negotiable.

Recommendation: Prioritize vendors renowned for their impeccable security practices and a legacy of safeguarding sensitive information.

3. Resource allocation

Question: Do you have the time and a dedicated workforce to develop and maintain this feature, or are you prepared to take resources away from other features in your roadmap to build it?

Insight: Crafting intricate tools, especially in the nuanced Trust & Safety space, requires not just initial development but also sustained maintenance and periodic updates.

T&S Perspective: Many professionals inadvertently trivialize Trust & Safety tools. This is a mistake. You can’t just build a flagging mechanism, pair it with a simple moderation queue, and call it a day. Policy development, queue management, classifier integrations, and regulatory updates are just some of the components of Trust & Safety tools that demand consistent developmental attention.

Recommendation: If your resources are capped, or you’re bereft of specialized expertise, it’s pragmatic to find an external tool that complements your existing infrastructure.

4. Domain expertise

Question: Is cultivating in-house domain expertise in Trust & Safety a strategic objective?

Insight: Forging a tool demands that your internal team delves deep into the domain, often redirecting them from other core initiatives.

T&S Perspective: Trust & Safety is a labyrinth of intricate subjects, spanning policy framing, multifaceted content analysis, and variable regional regulations, all necessitating a depth of expertise.

Recommendation: Procuring tools offers the dual advantage of tapping into external domain mastery while freeing up your team to champion other pivotal endeavors.

5. The cost of getting it wrong

Question: In the complex, highly contentious realm of Trust & Safety, am I prepared to deal with the consequences of an insufficient solution?

Insight: Some business tools are nice-to-have, while others are a requirement. These tools demand a level of attention and specialization to avoid compliance and PR risks.

T&S Perspective: Trust & Safety carries significant weight in both public interest and global regulations. The existence of harmful content on your platform is damaging to both user experience and retention, and your platform’s public image. Moreover, new global regulations set strict standards for user safety and harsh consequences for lack of compliance.

Recommendation: Ensure regulatory compliance, avoid negative press attention, and retain user trust by securing a dedicated Trust & Safety solution.

Making a Decision

The previous assumption that Trust & Safety tools are best built in-house is rapidly changing. UGC business leaders are finding that these tools, which are generally outside of their core offering, require an investment in resources and expertise, and carry a potentially heavy price for misapplication, are often best left to those with specialized expertise in the field.

One important hurdle to overcome in the decision to buy Trust & Safety tools, is trust. By design, Trust & Safety tools are provided access to your platform’s intimate user data, and are exposed to safety oversight – resulting in the need for trustworthy, professional vendors.

If you’re in the market for a Trust & Safety tool, or considering building one yourself, I invite you to see what our team of experts has built and to evaluate ActiveOS’s fit for your content moderation efforts.

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