A cost of an end-to-end network

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Slashdot is discussing the discovery that the Snopes site — a popular and trusted urban-myth buster — installs adware on the machines of the unwary. Here’s how one commenter (patio11) explains it:

A quick primer in online advertising, for those of you who block it:

At one end of the chain, we have Content Provider A. At the other end of the chain, we have Service Provider Z. Z wants to place advertising on A’s site but, importantly, doesn’t know how to do it, doesn’t generally know specifically who A is, and needs this to scale to potentially thousands of As. This is where participants B, C, D, E, F, Google, H… etc come in. There are advertising aggregators, affiliate networks, affiliates, affiliates of affiliates, affiliates of affilates of networks of affiliates who subdivide the advertising market into smaller and smaller slices before it finally gets on A’s site.

Now, somewhere in the chain, let us inject one person who is less than scrupulous. He doesn’t work at Snopes — this would tarnish a brand for a week’s worth of income, not a smart play. He probably has a steady stream of relationships with each of the numerous advertising concerns on the Internet, picking up and moving from one after he has collected a check or three and then had the banstick for TOS violations catch up with him. He is the one working for, most probably, affiliate of an affiliate of an affiliate of Zango.

This is the way most malware makes its way onto ad networks and, from there, onto high-trust sites. Volokh Conspiracy, one of my favorite blogs, had a nasty browser hijacker which affected non-US users for months before their advertising network caught wind of it. A few popular MMORPG sites have ended up hosting keyloggers in the same fashion. It is an unintended consequence of a system without central control — much like the Internet itself, actually. (The system being split up this way does have its advantages, for both endpoints of the chain and for everybody between. Google’s business model is based on snapping the chain and replacing it with a big cloud labeled Gooooooogle, but they’re not yet the only game in town.)

1 Comment

  1. Risperdal.

    May 20, 2009 @ 7:17 am

    1

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