In an advisory to publishers and ad servers, video ad serving and verification firm Telemetry describes three purveyors of browser extensions that it says are engaged in "sub-optimal" practices that could impact publishers, advertisers, and consumers.
The providers named in the January 28 white paper/advisory are AnchorFree, Yontoo Layers (also selling media as Sambreel, BuzzDock and other names) and CrossRider/215 Apps. Telemetry says the companies offer free browser plug-ins that modify web pages and potentially distort the user experience of those pages. In some cases, they inject ads onto pages and then monetize those ads through exchanges and sell-side platforms (SSPs). These ads can disrupt the placement of web ads and organic content on a webpage, in some cases by shifting them down and in others by replacing them entirely.
While such impression manipulation schemes are not new, Telemetry says the latest generation bears few of the obvious warning signs of the methods invented some 13 years ago by the likes of Gator (later Claria Corporation).
"At one time, these sorts of software introduced general system instability and inundated the user with additional advertising and virus-like behavior, now these packages may lay dormant for a few days, and tend to replace or overlay existing advertisements so that users are unaware that their browsing experience has changed," Telemetry states in its paper.
The below excerpts describe in more detail the tactics Telemetry says the three companies have employed.
"AnchorFree offers a VPN service promising the user privacy or access to services inside the US (often from outside the US). They sell ad placements as American audience coming from their reverse proxy in California USA.
They also operate an affiliate network that pays “free WIFI operators” to use their software. People using these free WIFI stations will have their browsing experience modified with ads that AnchorFree benefits from.
AnchorFree’s affiliate network has few restrictions and apparently minimal controls. Because the traffic is proxied by AnchorFree’s VPN product, the audience always appears to be coming from the US when in some instances traffic will be relayed into Asian Internet cafe sites. Ads run on constant loop, with sound muted, in thumbnail size frames."
"Yontoo Layers also [trades] as Sambreel, Brealtime, Buzzdock, Jeetyet media, ContentDNS, PageRage, DropDownDeals. They modify popular sites, including youtube.com and replace the companion Ad slot with a display unit that has been listed on various SSP/exchanges. Victim inventory can be relayed into very aggressive hijack iframe locations within repurposed pages on sites such as Facebook and Youtube.
Traffic on Yontoo Layers presents as remnant media in the banner position, however as it often replaces ad units after their request (but generally before the ad starts) they’ll produce an unusually low audience overlap with legitimate remnant media bought from the publisher." (Read AdExchanger's past coverage of Sambreel)
"Crossrider is a tool for building cross-browser extensions. It is a hosted solution with a sophisticated development environment. Of the 19,520 observed applications built with Crossrider, and 4,349 active plugins, only 52 applications use a monetization framework distributed by Crossrider. All 52 of these applications have been at some point distributed by a company called 215Apps.
This monetization framework modifies popular sites, including facebook.com and gmail.com, and inserts units listed on various SSP/exchanges. As with Yontoo, victim inventory can be relayed into very aggressive hijack iframes within repurposed pages on sites such as Facebook and Youtube."
The risks associated with certain of these practices goes beyond lost revenue for publishers, and budget waste for ad buyers.
Telemetry points out: "Where primary content and injected content overlap, usually with simultaneous audio tracks, the user will attribute the negative experience to the website they believe they are on, and to the advertiser of the injected unit. Hence placing unwanted exposure and performance pressure on the supplier or broker of the planned campaign inventory and generating negativity towards the advertiser."
Telemetry recommends that ad networks concerned about video ad injection use caution in enrolling new publishers. "Ensure you have real names of principals and physical delivery addresses," says the advisory.