Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Guardian Pulls All Google Advertising

Jane Martinson of the Guardian:

The Guardian has withdrawn all its online advertising from Google and YouTube after it emerged that its ads were being inadvertently placed next to extremist material.

Ads for the Guardian’s membership scheme are understood to have been placed alongside a range of extremist material after an agency acting on the media group’s behalf used Google’s AdX ad exchange.

David Pemsel, the Guardian’s chief executive, wrote to Google to say that it was “completely unacceptable” for its advertising to be misused in this way.

He said the Guardian would be withdrawing its advertising until Google can “provide guarantees that this ad misplacement via Google and YouTube will not happen in the future”.

I think this is a fine stance for the Guardian to take, but I also saw a Google ad in the sidebar of this very article. I don’t intend to conflate the buying of ad space with the display of ads, nor imply any hypocrisy on the Guardian’s part. But this goes to show that the automated buying and provision of ad space across the web creates unintended effects for everyone. It’s in an advertiser’s best interests to select their most relevant audience, but the slots on the Guardian’s website could potentially go to advertisers that the website’s readers would disagree with.

Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of ads from Carbon — the provider of the ad in the right-hand column of this website — promoting marketing automation tools that are largely built on mass data collection and retention, something I frequently criticize. However, I trust that Carbon won’t allow an ad from Breitbart or some neo-Nazi organization.

No matter how much publishers trust advertisers, the only way this can be resolved reliably is to eliminate the automated buying and selling of ad space across larger networks. Every publisher — or small, select, and invite-only group of like-minded publishers — must retain their own inventory. That’s massively difficult and, as a result, is unlikely to be the future of ads on the web. But so long as ads are distributed across huge networks where little control is held by advertisers and publishers alike, there will always be instances of disagreement between advertising and where it is displayed.