Friday, August 23, 2013

Digital ad networks put pressure on social media companies to prescreen for offensive materials, parallel to the CDA 230 problem

Digital advertising networks are facing dilemmas that could parallel the debate over widespread downstream liability for ISP’s, according to a Washington Post story Friday, August 23, 2013, by Hayley Tsukayama, on p. A14, “A digital ad dilemma for social media: Top sites struggle to address advertisers’ fears of offensive content”, link (website url) here
Some advertisers, including parts of Nissan, have refused to advertise on Facebook when their ads wound up on profiles with offensive content. But it is very difficult for ad networks or for social media or service providing companies to predict reliably that a particular profile or blog could never contain content offensive to particular advertisers.  (They all do this, to some extent, including Google, with its PSA's.) That parallels the idea that service providers (like YouTube) can’t presecreen user posts for violations of law (copyright, criminal threats, child pornography, trafficking) very reliably – an idea that has come up again with recent challenges to Section 230 (Aug. 9).
There is an inverse problem, that bloggers and profile owners see offensive ads on their pages, sometimes from less than legitimate companies overseas.  For example, I would have no way of knowing in advance that a company whose ads were placed on my sites was completely legitimate or not involved in some sort of scam.  But ad networks usually give the publishers or speakers the ability to fine tune allowable ads. I’ve never (yet) heard of calls that bloggers or social media profile owners should be held legally responsible for ads that show on their sites. But you never know.
User cookies determine what ads a visitor will see  Webroot used to mark some of the well known cookies (like Doubleclick) as spyware, but it doesn’t do as much of that now (in my experience).  But the content of a blogger’s postings or social media content also seem to affect the ads he sees everywhere (at least it does in my experience) as well as his location.  I haven’t turned off tracking, and the ads seem to know where I am (like Dallas, Charlotte, New York, LA, etc). 
The article points out business model problems for social media companies and service providers, both with the practical (and perhaps unrealistic) prescreening expectations of ad networks, and with “do not track”.

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