Ben Edelman Could Save Your Collective Asses

By Matt Van Hoven 

We first met Ben Edelman at this year’s Advertising Week in New York. He spoke on the Advertising Bill of Rights panel hosted by AdAge’s Abby Klaussen, and today there’s a Wall Street Journal article outlining some seedy tactics being used by so-far unnamed ad networks to game your media buyers.

Invisible pages are just like real Web pages, except &#151 they’re invisible. The upside for scamming ad networks (or whoever builds these things) is they can sell you ad space on pages site visitors will never see, and if the company buying space doesn’t properly vet the ads (read: visually confirm that they appear on the page bought), the scam goes unnoticed.

Reports the WSJ: “Mr. Edelman and other Internet-security experts say the ads are created with the use of computer code that makes it look to marketers as though their ads are showing up on legitimate Web sites. But consumers who visit those sites can’t see the ads because they have been placed on invisible Web pages.”

Anyway we mention having met Edelman, who is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, because he’s one of those people who looks at things differently. He’s allegedly on Google’s watch list of people who need to be paid attention to. He wrote a bill of rights for online advertisers, which you should read. They’re posted after the jump.

The first right: to know where your ads are shown.

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More:Toward a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers

1. An advertiser’s right to know where its ads are shown. It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context. Even for “blind buys,” advertisers need enough information to determine whether a given site qualifies to show an ad. Anything less undermines accountability—inviting fraudulent sites that devour advertisers’ budgets. And with all manner of fraud—from spyware pop-ups to invisible banners to adult sites slipping into networks that claim to be brand-friendly—advertisers need to be wary.

2. An advertiser’s right to meaningful, itemized billing. Clear records protect advertisers from accounting games. Otherwise, ad networks can claim “We already credited you for those clicks,” knowing that advertisers cannot prove otherwise. But some ad networks provide invoices that are opaque at best.

3. An advertiser’s right to use its data as it sees fit. Campaign configuration details (such as keywords and targeting) are an advertiser’s own creation, to be retrieved whenever and however the advertiser chooses. Same for records of campaign performance. Yet some ad networks impede data portability in an attempt to increase their share of advertisers’ spending. Such restrictions can lock advertisers into needlessly expensive ad platforms—sharply increasing advertising costs.

4. An advertiser’s right to enjoy the fruits of its advertising campaigns. When a user clicks an ad, the advertiser pays fair value to reach that user. But in a world of behavioral targeting, a network can later resell that same user to the advertiser’s direct competitor. Click one airline’s ad, and a network may conclude you’re in the market for travel—then show ads for other carriers. That’s a poor value for the advertiser whose spending sparked the targeting.

5. An advertiser’s right to resolve disputes fairly and transparently. Ad networks generally write the contracts that govern their dealings with advertisers. Networks often use this drafting power to tilt contracts in their favor—disclaiming promises that ads will appear anywhere in particular, and denying responsibility for fraud, even when they know about it and fail to take action. At face value, these contracts purport to grant networks effective immunity from advertisers’ complaints. But advertisers don’t accept such one-sided provisions in other procurement contexts, and they need not be so lenient in online ad-buying.