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Choke on it! Brit police squeeze pirate site advertising money trail

Ad biz still has plenty of other problems, though

The intercepting of advertisements served on dodgy pirate sites has begun to choke their revenue by 70 per cent, according to the City of London police, vindicating the policy of following the “money trail”, rather than an individual infringer, said the police and trade groups.

Tactics include harassing the seedy ad networks and payment processors used by sites that promote and distribute porn, warez and unlicensed content.

In recent years, major global brands were unwittingly helping fund the trade in warez and unlicensed content, as well as filth. For example, an advertisement for Lexus cars washed up on a bestiality site.

The chain of transactions behind a digital advertisement being displayed was so complex that brands such as Lexus and their agencies could plead ignorance and escape liability.

Then again, as musician and campaigner David Lowery pointed out two years ago: "I've never seen Coca Cola or Apple advertisements on a hardcore pornography or pirate site. If Apple can control it, so can others."

To counter this, the ad biz’s self regulator, the IAB (or Interactive Advertising Bureau, which develops industry standards, conducts research, and provides legal support for the online advertising), worked with PIPCU, the publicly funded private policing agency based in the City of London.

PIPCU set up a secret list of infringing sites, the IWL, so advertisers couldn’t plausibly claim ignorance any longer. “It’s clear that this is a PR problem no brand in its right mind wants to have,” the IAB said in a statement last week.

PIPCU said that over two years, Operation Creative has reduced the income of infringing sites by 73 per cent. The operation uses Sunblock technology to flag the rogue ads, which we wrote about last year.

The ads on dodgy sites can be a vector for malware. Indeed, malware even made it onto legitimate websites earlier this month, pumping out ransomware via a Flash vulnerability.

It’s only part of the problem facing the digital advertising biz. The proverbial elephant in the room is fraud, created by a combination of increasingly desperate spending by agencies, and the advent of machine-to-machine trading of ads by automated exchanges.

In May, the FT reported that a Mercedes Benz campaign had been viewed more times by bots than by humans. The paper reported ComScore’s estimate that a third of clicks were fraudulent and bot-generated: others estimate more. Google (PDF) reckoned last December that 56 per cent of clicks reported are “non viewable”.

In July, the world’s biggest agency WPP said it would stop using automated ad exchanges, while an executive at ad giant Publicis explained the problem in a nutshell: “The entire advertising industry is too fixated on chasing cheap slots, even if that means ‘fishing in a cesspool’.” ®

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