At TripleLift, we focus monetizing quality publishers with quality advertisements. We're focusing on ads that complement the user experience, and that deliver real value to both advertisers and publishers. That's a mission that I'm proud of and feel good about every day. But it also, at some level, seems like such an intuitively good mission for ad tech that it's a wonder why or how anyone would choose something different.
But they do. There are companies that don't do anything terribly interesting, but there are also - at the other end of the value chain - fraud and bad actors that cast a certain pall on the whole industry. Often when we talk about fraud, we talk about bots. But there's a whole host of bad actors. Ad injection is one we rarely discuss, in part because it doesn't directly have anything to do with us. But it's worth, from time to time, thinking about what's going on in the ecosystem.
Ad injection is basically a form of advertising where someone (your grandparents) install a toolbar on their computer. The toolbar ostensibly has some value that compelled the user to install it, like bookmarking or coupons, but that's largely irrelevant. The salient point is that the toolbar is also monetizing through ad injection. This means that it's actually adding (crappy banner) ads to sites like Google, Wikepedia, Facebook and more. It's also selling these ads on its own - and not paying the publisher anything.
People that have these toolbars are thus experiencing inferior versions of the web. More ads, ads that don't compensate the publishers for producing high quality content, and often very low quality advertising - because it's largely affiliate marketers that work with these toolbar companies.
It can be difficult to get rid of injected ads. First, it's probably not illegal for the toolbar companies to distribute their product - so as long as people continue to install the toolbars, there will continue to be injected ads. It's also quite lucrative, so there's plenty of incentive for people to perpetuate a sketchy ecosystem. Finally, it's technically hard to eliminate them.
On this last point, consider an ad exchange. Unlike TripleLift, where we have direct relationships with every single publisher - most exchanges do not. This includes reputable exchanges like AppNexus, Rubicon, etc. It means that all these exchanges allow networks or aggregators of inventory to sell on the exchange. Once company X starts selling inventory on the exchange, it's hard to tell where it came from - was it a legitimate ad tag placed on that publisher by the publisher, or was it put there by the toolbar. Companies that allow reselling like OpenX and AppNexus have generally had the most toolbar inventory and are doing the most to rid their exchanges of it, including blacklisting sellers and more. But once one seller is blacklisted, another pops up with a different name on a different exchange.
The industry is improving, though. This includes less tolerance for aggregators, quicker removal of bad actors, and an increased number of detection tools. But ultimately companies like ours - those with direct publisher relationships, and with a focus on actually delivering quality advertisements is the thing that will actually improve ecosystem as a whole.