Gator Bated

Ben Edelman, a doctoral student at Harvard Law School, has published the first phase of some fascinating and revealing research into the methods used by Gator, one of the main advertising servers on the Net.

If you've ever worked on a machine where someone has inadvertently installed the Gator client, you'll probably have seen examples of these intrusive and annoying pop ups, and may have wondered why certain ads show up at particular websites. How come all those ads for other banks and credit cards pop up when you visit the TD Canada Trust bank site, for example?

Ben's research includes information about more than 7,000 sites currently covered by Gator - including images of many of the ads currently in the system.

There are unpleasant inferences to be drawn from some of the "targeting" going on here - the ads primed to pop up at certain sites seem to be chosen to match fairly obvious demographic groups. Some of the choices seem a little curious. Readers of The Onion, for example, are perceived to be big users of online dating and "personals" services. H&R Block visitors are assumed to be interested in online stock trading...

Reading Ben's research, I found myself almost wanting to agree with one small thing Andrew Orlowski said:

"You only have to step outside tech-savvy circles to see what a massive disappointment the modern tech experience is for most people: many of whom are your friends and relatives...Basic web surfing means navigating through web sites whose inspiration for their baroque overdesign seems to have been Donald Trump's wedding cake, all the while requiring the user to close down dozens of unrequested pop-up advertisements. (Yes, we know the tools to turn off pop-ups, but the vast majority of IE users don't have that luxury, and their patience has already been tested to the limit.)

It's a terrific and genuinely important piece of research - congratulations to Ben for this. Well worth a read.