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Mind the Gap – Your Site May Have a Secret Ad

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:23 AM on April 10, 2012

Let’s say that you have a website that is entirely your own. Maybe it is your blog where you write about your favorite video game. Or, it could be the website where people can stream or download episodes of your podcast, check out your show notes, and leave you comments. One way to make money from your work is to connect with a company that wants to place ads on your website.

This doesn’t magically happen all by itself. Instead, content creators have to take the time to figure out which companies will pay to have their ads placed in a banner across the top of your page. Next, they have to contact someone from one of those companies, and negotiate a deal. It takes work to make this happen.

So, let’s say you went ahead and put in the effort, and the hours. You found a company that wanted to place ads on your website, you worked out a deal with the company that you both find acceptable, you spent time to get their ads to appear in the correct places on your website.

Now, imagine that some other company, one that you have never made any contact with yourself, came to your website and removed the ads that you worked so hard to put there. In their place, this other company put completely different ads. They didn’t ask your permission to do it, and they are now gaining revenue from your website, (instead of you), off of the ads they stuck in there. How would that make you feel?

Unfortunately, this scenario is actually happening. The New York Times has a frightening article that describes how a web engineer name Justin Watt noticed what was going on. He was in his room at the Courtyard Marriott, in Midtown Manhattan, and browsing the web through the hotel’s internet. When he visited his own website, he noticed a strange gap at the top of the page that he did not put there.

There is a company called RG Nets, Inc. that is behind this nefarious, and sneaky, placement of ads. They sell a service to companies that offers “pervasive web page advertising injection through HTML payload rewriting”. In other words, RG Nets, Inc., goes onto websites that it doesn’t own, without permission, and rewrites the HTML code, in a way that generates revenue for whomever their client is, (and therefore, for themselves as well). I’m not a lawyer, but something about this seems less than legal to me.

UPDATE: Marriott has now told RG Nets, Inc., to cease and desist. You can use the internet at the hotel now without accidentally allowing RG Nets, Inc., to secretly make money from the website you visit.

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