Could “Bad Ads” Destroy the Web’s Revenue Model?

It’s no secret that most consumers aren’t exactly fond of online ads, especially pop-up ones. While there are some very “bad ads” that could result in serious damage to consumers, a lot of onl...
Could “Bad Ads” Destroy the Web’s Revenue Model?
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  • It’s no secret that most consumers aren’t exactly fond of online ads, especially pop-up ones. While there are some very “bad ads” that could result in serious damage to consumers, a lot of online advertisements are perfectly safe and actually have a lot of benefits. In fact, online advertising is the Internet’s #1 source of revenue.

    It is for this reason and others that non-profit organization StopBadware has teamed up with the Interactive Advertising Bureau and tech giants including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL. These organizations have formed an alliance called the Ads Integrity Alliance in an effort to combat “bad ads” and change the perception that so many people have of online advertising.

    Maxim Weinstein, Executive Director of StopBadware As Maxim Weinstein, StopBadware’s Executive Director, explained to us, the “bad ads” that the alliance references consist of the ads that deliver malware, point users to spam, or tries to sell them counterfeit goods. StopBadware began this initiative several years ago as a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and spun off a couple of years ago as non-profit.

    “Our focus has always been on protecting consumers and other users of the Web from harmful software and harmful websites,” said Weinstein. “Bad ads are, of course, a part of that and in fact many badware websites are badware because of the fact that they serve up malicious ads that try to install malicious software on people’s computers.”

    “Our goal at the alliance,” he continued, “is to really focus more attention specifically on the ad side of the world because, up to this point, we’ve focused a bit more on the websites themselves and less on the advertising sector.”

    The alliance has three goals that it wishes to accomplish:

    1. Develop and share definitions, industry policy recommendations, and best practices
    2. Serve as a platform for sharing information about bad actors
    3. Share relevant trends with policymakers and law enforcement agencies

    In a Google blog post, Eric Davis, the company’s Global Public Policy Manager, said “the best way to tackle common problems across a highly interconnected web, and to move the whole web forward, is for the industry to work together, build best practices and systems, and make information sharing simple.”

    Since nearly every consumer has been impacted by a “bad ad” in some form, Weinstein did admit to us that they are “a very real threat.” However, he did say that improvements are being made everyday and that the alliance certainly hopes to bring even more advancements.

    “At the same time, we don’t want to send the message that this is some alarming thing and you can never trust an ad,” pointed out Weinstein. “By far, the majority of ads out there are legitimate and useful, and I think companies are only getting better at ensuring the high quality of advertising on the Web.”

    The alliance does have a challenge on its hands, especially given the stigma that is so often associated with ads. Another test that the alliance must deal with is the aspect of working with policymakers and law enforcement agencies. The past couple of years have shown that potential government regulation of various elements of the Internet, especially in terms of online advertising and behavioral targeting, has only resulted in controversy.

    “A big challenge with regulating this space is that it moves and changes so fast – far faster than the typical pace of government,” said Weinstein.

    “The next big opportunity is to say, ‘Now that companies have innovated on their own, what can we do working together?’”

    Weinstein believes that the alliance has a solid foundation for changing the negative perception that some people have of ads and also that, by working proactively as an industry, self-regulation measures can be found that will appease all parties involved.

    The third challenge surrounding “bad ads” is the fact that online advertising monetizes the majority of free services that we all enjoy and utilize daily. As a result, the issue of “bad ads” needs to be addressed quickly and effectively in order for this successful revenue model to continue.

    “Obviously, it’s important for consumers that they need protected from these “bad ads,” but it’s also important for the companies involved in advertising because they make their money when people click on ads,” said Weinstein. “When people find the ads valuable, and if people are concerned that they’re going to get badware, that they’re going to get a counterfeit good, that they’re going to get scammed by clicking on ads, they won’t click on them.”

    “So, it really is in everybody’s shared interest to work on this together,” he added.

    The alliance hopes that, within its first year, more companies will join the effort and that it will also have useful policy recommendations.

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