Media firms, desperate for readers, are turning to ad tech providers to deliver them.
But the providers' algorithms—unintentionally—are driving readers instead through a loop of shady websites.
The fraudsters who own these websites have one goal: to nab the ad dollars of big brands like Walmart and Nike.
The scheme is complex:
- First, the fraudsters run ads that drive readers to "shell" websites, stuffed with stale, stolen and stupid content.
- But readers of high value to ad tech providers—readers with the right demographics—are then redirected through a loop of other shell sites; redirected against their will via automatic pop-ups, pop-unders, and new browser tabs.
- The automatic looping improves the "audience quality" of the the shell sites. Once that quality has been established, the fraudsters sign lucrative contracts with big brands to display their ads on their shell sites.
The fraud is fast turning the web into "a clickbait jungle."
The researchers blame ad agencies, which have so far failed to detect the scheme.
HAT TIP: Ann Ramsey pointed me to the new research.