A new report from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed that ads for major brands like Nike, Amazon and ASOS are appearing on COVID-19 and anti-vaccination conspiracy sites.
The Bureau’s research spanned the course of three months, in which they found ads for major brands, as well as government sites like the UK’s National Health Service and US’s Department of Veteran Affairs, displayed on 60 websites which peddled disinformation.
Due to the opaque nature of the ad-buying process, companies are frequently unaware that their marketing is being hosted on un-ethical or disinformation-spreading sites. The responsibility for this ad placement largely comes down to third-party companies, such as Google.
As a result, brands often don’t keep track of where their ads are being placed, instead relying on the ad space buyers instead.
The sites peddling misinformation then also profit off the ad spend.
Independent ad fraud researcher Dr Augustine Fou told The Bureau this advertising is helping legitimise these conspiracy sites.
“Because they now have a source of funding, they can not only survive but also proliferate,” he says. “And that’s why we’re seeing this huge problem.”
Fou also called on the brand advertisers to exercise more diligence when buying programmatic ads, rather than relying on an ad exchange to execute brand safety protocols.
“All these middlemen, they’re intermediaries … so any dollar that flows through their platforms, they make more money,” Fou says. “They don’t have an incentive to cut down […] on the brand safety issues. In fact, they have every incentive to let it through.”
Rocky Moss at Deepsee.io, a brand quality platform, used crawlers to assess ads delivered by Google. Moss discovered almost 30 big brands which had their ads on at least two misinformation sites.
A spokesperson for Google told The Bureau that it took action against websites that went against its misinformation policy.
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