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PMG Digital Made for Humans

Protecting Client Integrity: A Tall Order

3 MINUTE READ | February 22, 2017

Protecting Client Integrity: A Tall Order

Recently an article about Blacklisting Breitbart made the front page of Buzzfeed. As a huge fan of Buzzfeed, I got a sort of weird, nerdish satisfaction that a hot topic in the digital world could make the front page of a trendy website.

The story is simple, companies have advertisements on controversial websites but the inner workings, why companies have advertisements on these websites, is much more complicated.

This is by no means meant to be a political post. Just three things I have not seen explored in articles concerning the issue.

Companies can place direct buys on websites. However, when a direct buy is not in place, users can be served ads based on the website previously visited via a tactic called retargeting. It’s the big brother feeling when the product you put in your shopping cart but didn’t purchase follows you around the internet. Some of the clients I have worked on have debated on whether or not to block websites like Breitbart for this reason. The user is on Breitbart which is why their ad is being served and not because companies are purposefully serving ads on Breitbart.

Even with retargeting, most clients choose to add Breitbart, and websites like it, to a blacklist. The blacklist is supposed to prevent ads from serving on these websites but, unfortunately, this is not always 100% effective. Sometimes URLs can be masked by a third party that purchases the media on websites like Breitbart. What this essentially does is hides the website domain from a blacklist, as it acts as a redirect to the website. Unfortunately, there are shady parties that purchase media with the goal of driving traffic to a particular site. Once it is known who is responsible for the redirect these SSP can be blocked but this can only be done on a 1 by 1 basis, and the list could be infinite.

Here’s an example of a URL from an ad that showed up on Breitbart via retargeting even after the site was blacklisted.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.52.48 AM

In this instance, disqus.com was responsible and added to our blacklist.

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A group called Sleeping Giants has played a large role in bringing this controversial ad issue to light by pointing the finger at companies on these websites. But like mentioned above sometimes an ad is served because the user is being retargeted and even after the website it is served on has been blacklisted. It might be more beneficial for the Giants to expose the blackhat SSPs that mask the ad URLs in redirects. While it’s not as interesting to the general public, exposing these shady ad companies will help people in the digital industry protect the integrity of the clients we serve.


Posted by Rachel Siegmund

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