Ad Injection: Whose Media Is This?

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Ad Injection

By Merav Chen, {grow} Community Member

A phenomenon known as “Ad Injection” could jeopardize your site’s user experience, user privacy and security, online businesses’ revenues, brands’ equity and content monetization … and it may be affecting up to 30 percent of Internet users. Ad Injection is a type of adware, but one that is difficult to detect and prevent.

Here’s how it works: injected adware operates at the browser level on a specific user’s PC. When users download certain browser extensions or software like a video player, antivirus software etc., their computers are also being installed with adware which could do one or more of the following:

  1. Present the user with random pop-up ads. So far, your usual nightmarish adware.
  2. Present the user with an additional layer of ads when they browse an e-commerce site. Imagine you’re looking to buy a certain cell phone on Amazon, for example, and all of a sudden you see an ad suggesting the same product on a different website. Such adware uses image recognition technology to present ads of similar products from competing sites on the user’s browser.
  3. Replace ads on publishers’ sites with other ads. If you are visiting a news site that shows ads and your PC is infected, you’ll see different ads than another user whose PC is not infected.

Who is this affecting?

Well, everybody. Publishers, e-commerce sites, advertisers and of course users are all being affected by this phenomenon, and it’s not always clear whose best interests are served or compromised by it.

Publishers could incur revenue loss – the ads they sell are not always being seen by site visitors, who instead see injected ads. There’s also a brand equity implication here, where the publisher has no control over the content and quality of the ads users allegedly see on their site.

E-commerce sites could potentially lose customers, as users are being offered to purchase the products elsewhere or are simply being distracted.

For advertisers, this is a double edged sword and, to make matters more complex, the sword is sometimes invisible. On one hand, if advertisers’ campaigns are being overridden by injected ads, then they’re not getting the impressions they paid for. On the other hand, if the same advertisers’ ads are the ones being injected – they could potentially benefit from lower CPMs of the ads being served via the adware. The obscurity surrounding injected adware combined with the complex ad-tech ecosystem could create a situation where advertisers do not always know whether their ads are injected or not.

And what about the users? Seemingly this adware was installed without the user’s knowledge, and it presents them with ads they don’t want. But the companies installing the adware would claim that not only has the user accepted the installation terms, but that they are in fact contributing to the user experience by suggesting better ads, better targeting, and better product alternatives.

Beyond the question of user acceptance, there’s also the matter of these ads technically and technologically being shown at the user’s browser level, not on the sites themselves.

That leads us to one question:  Whose media is this?

As a user, is my browser my own private media for me to decide which ads I allow to be shown, or is it that my browser is not media at all? You could say that users’ computers are the equivalent of a TV screen, and browsers are the equivalent of a cable connection, both allowing users to consume content being paid for by ads.

How big is ad injection?

Data from Namogoo, a company that developed technology for sites to block injected adware, shows 10%-30% of internet users are affected by injected adware on their browsers. This statistics no doubt requires the attention of advertisers and publishers alike.

Let me say it clearly – I am in favor of advertising. We all know there’s got to be a financial model that pays for the free content we create and consume, and advertising has been the winning model thus far, even if for lack of a better system. Internet users have come to accept online advertising as a given, or at least as a necessary evil, with the occasional grunt.

But ad injecting brings up a less talked-about aspect of online advertising, that of the advertising value chain and how susceptible it is to diversions of impressions, clicks and ad-dollars. This is a complex aspect of online advertising that is yet to unfold, and has commercial, legal and usability implications.

One thing is clear though – we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Where is this going?

Since users are likely unaware of the adware they installed and since site owners cannot know this is happening on their site unless their systems knowingly look for this specific type of adware, the awareness to this issue has been low so far. It is a rather young phenomenon, but perhaps once one of the Internet giants like Google or Facebook start to see the effects of this in their data, we’ll be hearing about it big time.

How should online marketers, advertisers and site owners address these changes to online advertising? What do you think?

Merav ChenMerav Chen is an experienced marketer and the co-founder of markitdigital.com, a digital marketing firm, shouting out to the world from Tel-Aviv, Israel.  Find her on twitter @meravchen

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