Essays on Technology and Culture

Who’s To Blame for Toxic Ads? The Network.

It’s easy to want to blame Reader’s Digest, or Yahoo, or Forbes, or Daily Mail, or any of these sites for screwing viewers by serving them malicious ads and not telling them, or not helping them with the cleanup afterward. And it’s a hell of a lot easier when they’ve compelled us to turn off our ad blockers to simply see what brought us to their site.

But the problem is coming through them, from the ad networks themselves. The same ones, it should be mentioned, who control the Faustian bargains made by bartering and selling our information.

— Violet Blue – “You say advertising, I say block that malware”

Programmatic ad networks are sometimes the only game in town for sites with general audiences. That there’s no quality assurance process for the ads they push out, nor is there incentive for them to check until something blows up in their faces. When an ordinary user can be infected by clicking a link on what should be a safe and trusted site, like Forbes, like Yahoo!, like Reader’s Digest, can you blame them for taking steps to protect themselves.

In an ideal world, it would be impossible for an ad to inject malware into a system, but in an ideal world, advertising could be trusted to be secure, not privacy-leaking and more infuriating for people who just want to read some content. I work in online publishing, and I block ads. If the risk of supporting publishers is that your computer becomes compromised by malware, I’d suggest you do the same.