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Exploring the Online Ad Ecosystem: Unveiling Bad Actors and Mitigating Malicious Advertising

29 August 2023
This article uncovers the hidden challenges of the online advertising ecosystem, from problematic ads and deceitful advertisers, to concerns about monopolistic practices. Explore the impact on user experience, privacy, and competition. Discover how the industry is combating these issues and shaping a safer and more transparent advertising landscape.

The online advertising ecosystem has revolutionised the way businesses promote their products and services. With millions of websites hosting advertisements, the system operates on automated bidding and fast transactions, providing advertisers with the ability to target and reach a vast audience. However there is an ever-growing threat of malicious advertisers, and concerns about monopolistic practices.

The Online Ad Ecosystem

The online ad ecosystem encompasses the network of websites, advertisers, and users involved in the display of online advertisements. Advertisers seek to promote their offerings with websites providing space for these ads. To facilitate transactions efficiently, the system automates the bidding process, allowing advertisers to compete for available ad spaces. Fast transactions ensure the seamless delivery of ads across a vast array of websites, and consumers are able to interact with the internet and advertising in a seamless way.

Direct Ads: A Standard Approach

Direct ads are a common form of online advertising. Advertisers establish direct relationships with specific websites to display their ads. By working directly with website owners, advertisers have greater control over ad placement, their content and how they perform. Direct ads often result in a more personalised and tailored user experience.

Problematic Ads: Implications and Challenges

Problematic ads refer to advertisements that may negatively impact user experience, violate content policies, or compromise user privacy. These ads can often be misleading or contain inappropriate content. Their presence raises concerns regarding user trust and engagement. Additionally, problematic ads can slow down website performance and potentially expose users to security risks.

Malicious Advertisers and Deceptive Techniques: false and misleading ads

Malicious advertisers pose a significant threat within the online ad ecosystem. They employ deceptive techniques to trick users into clicking on ads. These techniques include fake download buttons, misleading claims, and disguised ads that mimic legitimate content. Malicious advertisers exploit the automated bidding system to target a wide range of websites, maximising their reach and potential victims.

Malicious advertisers and online bad actors is a continuing challenge, as often times those trying to tackle their bad conduct by the time a solution has been found the bad actor has refined their illegal and harmful conduct to outsmart the solutions previously identified and circumvent the safeguards. The bad actors are sophisticated and always looking for new ways to violate ad systems. In 2022 Google reportedly stopped 5.2 billion "bad ads" – but each year the numbers of bad ads are multiplying. Some social media platforms have faced law suits over scam celebrity crypto ads or false and defamatory ads all created by bad actors.

Combatting Malicious Advertisers

Recognising the detrimental effects of malicious advertising, numerous websites have implemented robust content policies and ad tech systems to combat bad actors. Content policies aim to filter out ads that violate guidelines, ensuring a safer environment for users. Ad tech systems employ advanced algorithms and machine learning to detect and block malicious ads in real-time, providing proactive protection. However, like all scammers they continually find ways to circumvent the safeguards.

Monopolistic Practices in Digital Advertising Technologies

In recent years, concerns about monopolistic practices in the digital advertising industry have emerged. The Department of Justice in the United States, for example, filed a lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of monopolising digital advertising technologies. The lawsuit alleges that Google has engaged in anticompetitive conduct, stifling competition and harming advertisers and publishers. The EU have also filed a similar antitrust case against Google, accusing the company of abusing its dominant position in the market.


The advertising landscape has been greatly influenced by the online ad ecosystem, offering advertisers vast reach and precise targeting options. Nonetheless, there are ongoing difficulties including troublesome ads and bad actors, deceitful advertisers, and monopolistic practices. To establish a safer and more transparent environment, the industry needs to consistently confront problematic ads, cooperate against deceptive advertisers, and tackle concerns about monopolisation. By implementing stringent content policies, innovative ad tech systems, and regulatory measures, the online advertising ecosystem can progress to effectively serve the digital economy as a whole.

If you wish to seek further advice on any of the issues discussed please contact our author Olivia O'Kane below.

Further Reading