The Russians Are Coming for Ad-Sponsored Piracy But Will They Come For Google?

Paul Resnikoff is reporting in Digital Music News that according to Izvestia the Russian Minister of Communications Alexei Volin intends to publish a list of 100 major brands whose online ads routine appear on pirate sites.  (Izvestia is essentially a government controlled broadsheet, so it is safe to say that there’s nothing that appears in Investia that Mr. Putin doesn’t want to be there.)

Paul obtained a translation of the Russian-language article indicating that this would be something of a name-and-shame campaign.  As MTP readers will recall, we have been on this tip for years, as has David Lowery in the Trichordist and his “Undesirable Lyric Site” report that focused on unlicensed lyric sites especially those that were ad supported.  So I’m somewhat gratified that a government would take on this issue from essentially the same approach.

I find it bizarre, however, that it’s the Russian government.  One reason is that I find it very hard to believe is the long history of pirate sites operating in Russia–could those sites have operated without Kremlin protection (if not financial participation)?  We’ll see if this actually comes to pass and whether anything happens as a result of it.

It is well to note though that major brands and the mega-ad agencies like WPP are taking a hard look at whether online advertising even makes sense given the high degree of click fraud and scamming by ad networks.  According to a recent article in the Financial Times, WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell “warned Google that unless it improves its efforts to weed out ‘fake views’ of online adverts, marketers will shift their focus back towards traditional media such as press and television.”   Sir Martin was reacting to a study that alleged that Google “has been charging marketers for YouTube ad views even when the video platform’s fraud-detection systems identify that a ‘viewer’ is a robot rather than a human being” and Sir Martin stated the obvious conclusion that “Clients are becoming wary and suspicious.”

So on the one hand you have the brands getting shamed, now by the Russian government of all things, and on the other hand they are getting ripped off by the ad networks especially Adsense and YouTube.  And at the same time we have the YouTube, Spotify and Pandora trying to convince us that free streaming is our future (Spotify and Pandora both use Google’s Doubleclick platform that is no doubt part of the problem Sir Martin describes).

No wonder these services make upstream advertising revenue so difficult to confirm.  Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman called it years ago with his prescient “Toward a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers“.  If it’s any consolation, these ad networks don’t just do it to us, they do it to everyone including the brands themselves.  The first plank of Edelman’s bill of rights is transparency for advertisers:

An advertiser’s right to know where its ads are shown.  It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.  Even for “blind buys,” advertisers need enough information to determine whether a given site qualifies to show an ad.  Anything less undermines accountability—inviting fraudulent sites that devour advertisers’ budgets.  And with all manner of fraud—from spyware pop-ups to invisible banners to adult sites slipping into networks that claim to be brand-friendly—advertisers need to be wary.

If advertisers had demanded the rights that Ben Edelman proposed in 2009, it would be a lot easier to take their side now.  But they didn’t and it’s not.

So however difficult it is to swallow that it’s the Russians, and however odd the timing, it will be welcome for any government to follow suit.

President Obama, please take note.