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Long tail media meeds programatic ad buying

Much online advertising capitalizes on the lure of the so-called long tail of the internet -- sites that draw relatively small but attractive audiences, like blogs for new parents or forums for truck enthusiasts. Advertising on those sites costs a fraction of what it does on more prominent online destinations, which typically deal directly with advertisers.

Teenagers overseas and entrepreneurs in the United States discovered this year that they could earn thousands of dollars a month by writing wholly fictionalized or wildly exaggerated partisan political news intended to be spread on Facebook. They then reaped money from Google Ads and other networks after credulous readers in the United States clicked through to their sites.

"A lot of ad buying systems are trying to show the right ad to the right person at the right time, and you see that mantra of those three variables across the industry," said Michael Tiffany, the chief executive and a founder of White Ops, an ad fraud detection company. "Note how 'on the right site' doesn't make the list."

Money is funneled to smaller sites through a complex system of agencies and third-party networks, which can resemble a stock exchange. This system, known as programmatic advertising, allows brands to collect many millions of impressions -- an industry term that generally indicates that an ad has been displayed and can be viewed.

But the lack of human oversight in this nascent industry has also led to confusion and mistakes. Technology has emerged to protect brands from showing up on sites that traffic in, say, pornography or spam, but those measures have been found wanting when it comes to disinformation. That kind of content is more difficult for security firms to detect than "open hate speech or nudity or violence or any of the normal stuff that you would stay away from," said John Montgomery, executive vice president for brand safety at GroupM, part of the advertising giant WPP.


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