Ghost publishing: Lots of traffic and ad dollars, no audience

AdWeek | spider.io

The increasing reliance of media websites on advertising exchanges has a growing challenge to face in the form of ghost publishers — media properties purporting to offer generic media content reaching huge audiences to sell advertising, but statistically not drawing a large number of real people.

AdWeek’s Mike Shields calls out several companies meeting this criteria, arguing the millions advertisers are spending on these companies’ sites is bad for online advertising overall.

A company called Alphabird, for example, says it generates 8 billion impressions a month through its more than 80 sites. That’s an impressive total for a company that “pays $2.50 for a 75-word post and $15 for a 300-word story for sites like www.ladyshopspot.com.”

The ad dollars are conversely very lucrative.

For example, one site featured ads from Budget, BMW and Virgin. Sweetgrilling.com on Monday featured an auto play video for Motown the Musical (shown three times in two minutes), as well as banners from Jetblue, Pillsbury and Gogurt.

Like athletes who dope, Shields says, ghost publishers “keep changing their tactics to avoid detection.”

“There are two parties being hurt,” AdSafe Media’s Will Luttrell tells Shields. “Advertisers are losing money, and large premium publishers get screwed.”

London-based analytics firm spider.io announced Tuesday that it has found a bot network called Chameleon affecting 202 websites that are apparently defrauding advertisers. This botnet uses more than 102,000 Windows computers infected by a virus in an elaborate scheme to simulate page impressions and drive up ad revenues.

14 billion ad impressions are served across these 202 websites per month. The botnet accounts for at least 9 billion of these ad impressions. At least 7 million distinct ad-exchange cookies are associated with the botnet per month. Advertisers are currently paying $0.69 CPM on average to serve display ad impressions to the botnet.

Spider.io notes that each infected computer reports as using Internet Explorer 9.0 running on Windows 7. They also list 5,000 IP addresses that are the worst offenders in the Chamelon botnet. In all, the company says the fraudulent impressions have cost advertisers at least $6.2 million.

 

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