Why ‘Bad’ Ads Appear on ‘Good’ Websites, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity
Sketchy advertisements, such as miracle diet pills and suspicious software, sometimes appear on legitimate and reputable websites. It turns out that most websites don’t actually decide who can serve ads to their viewers. Instead, most sites outsource this task to a complex network of ad tech companies.
The online advertising ecosystem is largely built around “programmatic advertising”, a system for placing advertisements from millions of businesses on millions of websites. The system uses computers to automate advertisers’ bidding on available ad space, often with faster transactions than would be possible manually.
Programmatic advertising is a powerful tool that allows advertisers to target and reach people on a wide range of websites. Malicious online advertisers take advantage of this system and use online advertisements to deliver scams or malware to millions of people.
Programmatic advertising, explained
The modern online advertising market is supposed to solve one problem: to match the high volume of advertisements with the large number of advertising spaces. Websites want to keep their ad slots full and at the best prices, and advertisers want to target their ads to relevant sites and users.
Rather than each website and advertiser teaming up to serve ads together, advertisers work with demand-side platforms, technology companies that allow advertisers to buy ad space. Websites work with supply-side platforms, technology companies that pay sites to put ads on their page. These companies manage the details to determine which websites and users should be matched with specific advertisements.
Most of the time, ad tech companies decide which ads to show through a real-time auction. Whenever a person loads a website and the website has space for an ad, the website’s supply-side platform will request bids for advertisements from demand-side platforms through a system of auction called ad exchange. The demand-side platform will decide which ad in its inventory best targets the particular user, based on the information it has collected about the user’s interests and web history from user browsing tracking. , then submit an offer. The winner of this auction can place his ad in front of the user. It all happens in an instant.
Filter out bad ads
Malicious advertisers, like any other advertiser, can take advantage of the scale and reach of programmatic advertising to send scams and links to malware to millions of potential users on any website.
There are checks against bad publicity at several levels. Ad networks, supply-side platforms, and demand-side platforms usually have content policies limiting harmful ads. For example, Google Ads has an extensive content policy that prohibits illegal and dangerous products, inappropriate and offensive content, and a long list of deceptive techniques, such as phishing, clickbait, false advertising, and doctored images.
However, other ad networks have less strict policies. For example, some native ad networks serve many low-quality ads and have a much shorter content policy that prohibits illegal, offensive, and malicious ads. Native advertising is designed to mimic the look and feel of the website it appears on and is usually responsible for sketchy advertisements at the bottom of news articles.
Websites can also block specific advertisers and ad categories. However, malicious advertisers are adapting to countermeasures and finding ways to evade automated or manual auditing of their ads or exploit gray areas in content policies. For example, a study of misleading political ads during the 2020 US election showed that there were many fake political polls, which claimed to be public opinion polls but asked for an email address to vote. Voting in the poll got the user on political mailing lists. Despite this deception, ads like these may not have violated Google’s content policies on content policy, data collection, or misrepresentation, or may have simply been missed in the review process. .