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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sah Palin's PAC and other inappropriate ads

Shortly after I began blogging five years ago I noticed that Google had begun inserting context-sensitive ads onto Blogger/Blogspot blogs:

I just noticed a few days ago that there's an ad banner at the top of my blog page. These ads are provided by Google, and I have no control over them. This seems only fair, since Blogger is a part of Google, and Google is providing this service and space for free.

But I noticed that the ads themselves seemed a little peculiar in their subject matter. One was for the Conservative Book Club. Another was for the Republican Book Club. At the bottom of the ad is a little tag that says "Related searches". While these particular ads were showing, the "Related searches" included "Condoleezza Rice", "Dick Cheney", and "national security advisor" - all mentioned in my
June 27 post.

Google eventually did away with these ads and replaced them with the Blogger toolbar at the top of the blog. But sometime after that they rolled out the AdSense program, which gives bloggers and others the option of placing context-sensitive ads on their sites. I resisted signing up for this for a while, but after I lost my job in 2007 I realized it was stupid of me to turn away any legitimate income source on the basis of half-thought-out principles. Still, the reward for abandoning these principles has been minuscule, at best.

AdSense ads are context-sensitive: they somehow comb through the text of a blog entry and insert ads based on criteria specified by the advertiser. I don't know exactly how this works, and I don't know how the criteria are set. And I don't know if it is by accident or design that ads completely antithetical to the posted content sometimes get though.

I've received several comments on the SarahPAC ad that's been appearing consistently on my blog recently. I first saw this ad a few days ago, on the page that appears to confirm that your post has uploaded successfully. I thought it was an odd place to put such an ad, but didn't give it a second thought.

Then I started seeing the ad appear on my sidebar or in the adspace at the top of my posts. I still didn't think much of it. Anyone who is familiar with me or my blog knows that I am no fan of Sarah Palin or of the political thinking that saw her slipped into the co-pilot's seat during the election. I do not dislike the person Sarah Palin should have been - would have been if I were writing her character: a tough, smart, determined individual who worked and fought her way to the top position in her state and was willing to do whatever it took to go even further. Instead what we had was an empty parody of all that. With every tick of the election clock Sarah Palin just seemed to be a worse and worse deal for America - and for the party that rallied behind her as their chosen candidate's chosen running mate.

Still, SarahPAC has seen fit to place its ads on my site. I don't know why. Maybe their ad placement algorithm is dumb, or at least simplistic: If the site mentions Sarah Palin, or mentions her this many times in this time period, place the ad. Or maybe this is a strategic choice: Any site that mentions Sarah Palin is likely to attract searches for Sarah Palin, and while some of the people conducting those searches will be opposed to donating money to a Sarah Palin Political Action Committee, others will in fact be so inclined. Or maybe the strategy is more sinister: If a blogger is expressing an anti-Sarah Palin sentiment, place the ad to undermine the credibility of the blogger, perhaps even turn the blog's regular readers against the blog. That would be...clever.

Like so much else involving Sarah Palin, this ad placement (to paraphrase Mr. Furious from Mystery Men) is either very smart, or very dumb.* Still, I don't find it particularly offensive, so I'm not going to take steps to have it removed. If you're interested in donating to Sarah Palin's PAC, go ahead. If you'd like to learn more about SarahPAC, feel free. If you feel that the space would be better served by some other ads - we'll, I'll be posting on lots of other topics, and if Sarah Palin keeps true to what she said in her resignation speech, I probably won't have too much more to say about her in the future. I think ad placement depends in part on reinforcement: ads that generate clicks from genuinely interested people tend to result in additional ads for similar products or services.

This whole situation is somewhat amusing, and mostly harmless. But sometimes, context-sensitive ads have a darker side.

During the month of June Dr. Isis of On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess was among the bloggers engaging in an effort to raise awareness of the sexual exploitation of women and children throughout the world. It was a big effort, and she , like many of the other bloggers involved, had pledged all of her blog-derived income for the month of June to the cause.

A few weeks ago ads from Russian mail-order bride services began to appear on her blog. Basically, ads for companies that engage in legalized human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women.

Naughty Ads and Why I'm on Hiatus : On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

Fortunately, after several days the group under whose umbrella she blogs finally responded to her takedown requests and confirmed that these ads had been removed.

Isis Ends Her Hiatus... : On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

Was this a case of extremely inappropriate context-sensitive ad placement? I don't know. It seems likely at first glance, but I have also seen these ads and similar ads elsewhere, particularly on Facebook. So is this perhaps a well-capitalized business or (ahem) organization that is just throwing lots of money around, buying ads wherever they can? We'll see. I haven't seen any such ads on my site yet, but such ads may be prohibited under Google's AdSense rules. Maybe not. If anyone sees such an ad on my site, please let me know.

That, I will make a stink about.


*This was apparently originally said in Jaws.

1 comment:

HECK said...

Personally, I find context-sensitive ads to be a bit creepy, and since we're only at the beginning of this technology, it's bound to get creepier. That stuff in the movie "Minority Report" doesn't seem too far-fetched. I think you're right, though, that Google screens the ads it places, so at least there's something good in that.