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As if the news industry doesn’t have enough to worry about

Thursday, Nov 7, 2019

* Buzzfeed

Since 2004, more than 2,000 newspapers have closed in the United States, and many local news outlets are struggling to build a digital business. But one remarkable success story is the Albany Daily News, a website that clocked nearly 10 million pageviews in August, roughly five times that of the 160-year-old Albany Times Union newspaper, according to analytics service SimilarWeb.

The most popular news site in Albany has a simple secret to success: Fake just about everything and rake in the advertising dollars.

The Albany Daily News is an empty husk of a website filled with old content that for months was showered with questionable traffic as part of a digital ad fraud scheme, according to new research from Social Puncher, an ad fraud prevention consultancy. […]

The sites, whose ultimate beneficiary is unknown, provide yet another example of how the digital ad industry is being ravaged by dubious schemes and outright fraudsters who steal money from brands by causing ads show up on sites and apps with fake or manipulated audiences, among other techniques. The fake local sites also illustrate a painful irony that while authentic local news outlets in the US and Canada struggle with business challenges, there’s apparently plenty of money or influence to be gained by masquerading as one.

For crying out loud.

* More

Google is more than just an advertiser on these sites. Its ad platforms are helping them earn money. The Edmonton and Albany sites make the majority of their ad inventory available via Google’s ad network, meaning the tech giant facilitates the programmatic sale of ads on the sites and takes a cut of revenue when ads are displayed. Along with Google, the sites also list their inventory with AppNexus, another large ad network.

A Google spokesperson said the Edmonton and Albany sites were not violating any of its policies and that they appeared to be receiving some of their traffic by placing ads on other websites via networks such as Taboola and Outbrain. AppNexus declined to comment specifically on the sites.


* From the conclusion of the study

Brands only receive a report at the end of the month/quarter/year with a list of domains where their ads were displayed. If domain names have the typical pattern of old local media, then it is impossible to understand that this is fake, and therefore it is impossible to avoid such schemes.

So, advertisers are being ripped off, actual news sites which produce real content are missing out on revenue, but the fraudsters and companies like Google rake in the dough.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Streator Curmudgeon - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 12:53 pm:

    I own a web site. Don’t get me started on Google.

  2. - Practical Politics - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    Shocked that Proft isn’t buying up the names of defunct newspapers to provide cover for his publications.

  3. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 1:17 pm:

    The issues of revenue finally getting to the right place is only less frustrating to Google being a major money maker off the work of others or the funnel to the rest.

  4. - Anon221 - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 1:24 pm:

    What’s old is new again…

    “For colonists aspiring for independence in this Enlightenment era, fake news reports were particularly troubling. Achieving success and establishing legitimacy depended on public opinion, which in turn relied on the spread of information through newspapers. (At that time, of course, public opinion referred generally to the accumulation of white, male landholders’ views.)”

  5. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    ===What’s old is new again===

    This isn’t about fake news. They don’t even update their sites. This is about scamming advertisers.

  6. - Whizbang - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    Although the process depresses me and I do not support it. I learned early in my career over thirty years ago that “GREED WINS!!” I followed the suggestion of an executive that I worked for. I learned that it was a sad truth and I had to learn to live with it and change what I could.

  7. - Bruce (no not him) - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 2:10 pm:

    If the advertisers are getting clicks, how are they getting ripped off? Clicks are what they want, right?

  8. - ChrisB - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 2:13 pm:

    The thing is, this shouldn’t work. We police our media metrics for our clients pretty well, and drop anything that underperforms pretty quickly. If our programmatic team was buying audiences on a dead site, it’d stick out like a sore thumb.

    Then again, my clients trust our data. That isn’t the case for a lot of the larger accounts.

  9. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    ===If the advertisers are getting clicks===

    They’re fake clicks.

  10. - Anon221 - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 3:27 pm:

    I was focusing more on this part of the quote…

    “Achieving success and establishing legitimacy depended on public opinion, which in turn relied on the spread of information through newspapers.”

  11. - NotSurprised - Thursday, Nov 7, 19 @ 5:13 pm:

    Well, let’s talk to Gov. Google about this… /s

  12. - Robert M Roman - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 6:27 am:

    Fake clicks are only half the story as ads are often charged by how often they are displayed. This opens HUGE opportunities for rip-offs.

    Print publications have some degree of auditing regarding their circulation, but electronic (including radio and TV) are numbers that at best are not quite lies but are only true if you’re generous and credulous.

    Dishonesty aside, I’ve found that web statistics are, at best, ball-park approximations. The numbers logged by servers were intended to serve the interests of the geeks who run the machines, not the publishers, editors and creators of content. A great deal of effort has gone into work arounds (e.g. Google Analytics) but I have little faith in them.

    This is one of my pet peeves, incidentally. :)

  13. - Peace, Love and Guitars - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 7:35 am:

    Let’s circle back to the real problem, Google is way too big and must be broken up. Where’s a trust buster when you need um.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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