Who Owns Internet Ad Space?

advertise-hereGoogle made a very interesting announcement a few weeks ago that led me to find out more about the ad space on web sites. Google announced that for $2 per month they would block all ads on web sites for a customer as long as they browse through the Chrome browser.

I find this fascinating because it means that Google thinks that they have the ability to block an ad, even when they are not the one to have placed the ad in the first place. Google sells a lot of ads, and so it makes sense that they can block ads that they have placed on a web page. But when they say they can block all ads it also means that they think they have the ability to block ads placed by somebody else.

Just to be clear about what I mean by ads, look at this web page. At the top is a banner ad. At the top right of the story is an ad. And across the bottom of the article are four ads. After loading this web site multiple times I noticed that the ads changed.

It turns out that there are two kinds of ads on a web page. There are fixed ads and remnant ads. Fixed ads are placed there by the web site owner or somebody they partner with to advertise for them. Fixed ads embedded into the web page and can only be accessed by the website owner. The other kind of ads are called remnant ads. These are coded in such a way as to be available to outsiders, and anybody that has access to a website before it reaches a customer can change what is in the remnant ad space.

And as you would expect, these remnant ad spaces get changed all of the time. There are a lot of companies that sell advertising into the remnant ad space including Google (DoubleClick), Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, AOL, AppNexus, Openx, Adroll, RightMedia and dECN. It was very easy for me to spot remnant ads in the recent election season, because I swear that every web page I looked at here in Florida had a political ad for Rick Scott who was running for reelection as Governor. So somebody was being paid in Florida to put those ads onto Florida computers.

The first question this raised for me is: who owns this ad space? The web page example is from the TechCrunch web site. TechCrunch chose to make the ads open to the public and I assume they gets revenues from at least some of the parties that use that space, which is their motivation to use remnant ad space. Google thinks they have a right to go in and block whatever is on the remnant ad space on that page, so they are sure that it is theirs to grab. I know that some of the larger ISPS like cable companies are also in the advertising business, through partners, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Comcast that gave me all of the Rick Scott ads.

I was shown a recent legal opinion by one of the companies that advertises in the remnant space who was gracious enough to share it with me as long as I don’t publish it. The opinion says basically that nobody owns the remnant ad space. The legal opinion says that the act of a web site owner in making this available to the public means just that, and it can be used by anybody who somehow has access to the website before it reaches a customer. That generally is going to mean some company who is part of the chain between a web site and the customer. Obviously the web site owner can hire somebody to place ads in the remnant space. If you reach the web site through a browser then the browser owner can place the ad in there. If you get to a web site through a link on another web site like Yahoo News then they can place ads there. And your ISP also would have access to this ad space.

I really like the Google product that blocks ads. I think there are plenty of customers who would love to avoid all of those ads. Further, blocking ads means a faster Internet experience for a customer. I know there are web sites I go to that have multiple videos automatically running that seems like an extravagant use of my bandwidth. I have a 50 Mbps Internet connection and there are still web sites that load very slowly due to all of the extra videos that have been layered into the ad spaces. I also learned that remnant ads are one of the most common sources today of adware and malware and I will talk about that more in tomorrow’s blog.

3 thoughts on “Who Owns Internet Ad Space?

  1. Dear Doug:
    To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, all ads are not “… created equal”. This is obvious when websites allow end users to comment on some advertisements (I regularly ‘pan’ them as too big or inappropriate…), but not other bigger, more inappropriate ads. The webpage producer obviously has some control, but not total control, of what the end users receive.
    Then there was the story about the FCC employee who found out his wife was pregnant because she made one initial query into baby products, and all those focused “helpful” ads started popping up.
    At least to me — who is 30-years older than dirt — I find these focused ads to be at least an invasion of my privacy, and usually moderately offensive. Where I can, I try to throw off the A/I logic… I use different search engines for different tasks, have multiple e-mail addresses and sign-ons to ‘throw off the scent’, so to speak.
    I have managed to eradicate a lot of USPS ads in my mailbox. I send back the business-reply envelopes with a notation to “please take me off the mailing list”, along with as much weighty bill stuffers as I can cram into the B/R envelope. The advertiser gets the message. Besides, the extra weight provides extra funding for the post office!
    What Google’s $2 (or whatever) offer also points out is that there is a very sizable chunk of the populace out there that KNOWS… not feels or thinks… KNOWS… that advertising on the Internet, and on media outlets in general has gotten out of control. Pro sports has become nothing but a bit advertising-orgy. Everything on TV is about ratings, and the way ratings translates into advertising revenue.
    Feh… I’ll read a book.

    P.S. An interesting news article the other day noted that the spy industry has rediscovered the typewriter… because it can’t be hacked… Maybe that is the way to avoid the ads… +R

  2. As a user, I like the idea of no ads and $2/month is too low to pass up. BUT I don’t love the irony of the company making the most money charging me not to get their ads – kind of like paying to not get listed in the phone book of yesteryear.

    As someone who buys ads from Google, I again don’t love the irony. If I were a big company that bought a lot of ads, I might make my site less appealing to Chrome users in the hopes of getting customers to use a different browser that showed my ads. Now I’d have to be really big or have something better than no ads to tout but, if I were big I’d work on it. And I’d find a way to make Bing ads more worth the effort. It will be interesting to see their reaction.

    Regardless – interesting post. Thx!

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