The Problem With Ad Networks


This week, the newsletter had a problem. It’s not a new problem but it’s one I thought I had solved; apparently, I hadn’t. The short version is that some ads ran that were for a device of an adult nature. Thankfully, the images in the ads were not graphic whatsoever, but still — I want Now I Know to be something you can easily share with the kids in your life (well, usually; some topics are just unavoidably PG-13 or worse) — and ads like that aren’t going to meet that goal. I apologize for this and I’m trying to solve it going forward. (You may still see one today; the solution hasn’t taken effect yet.)

To explain what happened: many of the ads you see are provided by a third party called an “ad network” a way that I have little control over. The way it works is simple, although in this case, to a fault. The ad network buys space from publishers like me and aggregates all this ad space they now control. The ad network also works with advertisers — they use all sorts of science and math to figure out how to get the right ads in front of the right people. Sometimes, that ad targeting isn’t great, to say the least, especially in times when major advertisers are reconsidering how much they spend on marketing. The ad network tries to show ads from their highest-paying advertisers as much as possible, and when those highest-paying companies are of an adult nature, those are the ads that get shown. 

Because all of this happens behind the scenes, I don’t always have insight into the ads that you see until after you see them, and because you may get a different ad than I do, I may never see an offending ad. Proactively, I block a number of categories of ads — adult being one of them — but sometimes the ad network or advertisers miscategorize the ads for some reason. So I’ve put in a more specific request in this case.

As long-time readers know, I’ve been trying to reduce the number of low-quality ads for a long time, but it’s hard to do while making the newsletter financially sustainable. (It’s not an accident that the readers who support the newsletter via Patreon get an ad-free version.) It’s a work in progress, though, and one — unfortunately — a constant one at that.

Thank you for your patience as I work through this blip, and again, sorry if you were served an ad that isn’t consistent with what Now I Know typically shares.

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondayThe TV News Program’s Key Mistake: The word “key” is a pun.

TuesdayThe Secret Writer’s Secret: The problem with buggy software and language filters.

WednesdayThe Worst House Money Can’t Buy?: How to get rid of cockroaches.

ThursdayThe Special Sound a Mercedes-Benz Makes Before a Crash: It’s called “pink noise” and helps protect you from injury.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The Cobweb” (The New Yorker, 25 minutes, January 2015). Last week, I wrote about the problem with link rot; this New Yorker story talks about this in more detail, with some legal implications that can also arise as a result of broken links and missing web pages. Thanks to reader Alex K. for sharing! 

2) “Riches to Rags” (Bloomberg, 10 minutes, November 2019). This is a story about a rag manufacturer — and it’s one of the most interesting stories I’ve read in months. So many little things I’d never have thought of!

3) “How Did an Entire Sri Lankan Handball Team Vanish in Germany?” (Mel Magazine, 11 minutes, November 2021). The headline doesn’t give much away, so neither will I.

Have a great weekend!