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Is This Legal?: Harry Reid ads piggy-backing on conservative websites

My wife and I are in Las Vegas, Nevada to celebrate her mother's 85th birthday. We're staying at my brother's home in an area of Vegas called Summerlin. A few hours after I arrived this morning I accessed the internet through his wireless, provided by the local Cox ISP. As usual I checked many politics sites that I frequent including several conservative sites such as Red State, Ace of Spades HQ, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and the American Spectator. On every one of these sites a pro-Harry Reid ad appeared as if it were one of the site's advertisers. (It is paid for by "Friends for Harry Reid," and when you click it, you are taken to Harry Reid's campaign website, harryreid.com). And each of the ads emphasized what Reid has done for Nevada, including anti-Yucca Mountain dump legislation which he and his Republican colleague from Nevada, John Ensign, supported.

I thought to myself that this was sort of odd. But I had a theory. If these ads were being added to these sites without permission of the sites' owners, Senator Reid's campaign is employing software in order to detect when someone on a Nevada ISP and/or a Nevada IP address is accessing these sites. So, I tried something. I went online via my Baylor Virtual Private Network, which would show a third party that I was accessing the internet in Waco, Texas. Sure enough. When I did that, no pro-Reid ads appeared. But what did appear were the ads the websites' advertisers had purchased. I then turned off the VPN, and the Reid ads returned. I went back to the Baylor VPN, and presto, no Reid ads.

I have no idea whether this is legal or not, or whether there are arrangements for such things with ISPs about which a website owner has no control. But it seems to me that if an advertiser, for example, pays the American Spectator to advertise his product on that website, the advertiser probably does not think that his ads will be covered-up by political ads in one of the largest cities in the American West, Las Vegas. And its probably the case that anyone who advertises on the AS website is no fan of Senator Reid. Can any WWTW readers provide any insight on this?

I created PDFs of the sites with Reid ads. I then turned them into JPEGs. I reproduce them below.


Comments (6)

I doubt the ads are being "covered up." Reid's campaign probably just paid for ads that only show to people in Nevada, on the basis of what IP address they show as.

That's a common thing and I doubt there's any foul play.

Thanks Neil. It seems to me (and my perception could certainly be wrong here) that when I go to the Baylor VPN the ads that are typically on the site appear. But when I'm using the Nevada ISP, Reid's appear, and they seem to a little more transparent, indicating that they are indeed covering up another's ads. Again, my perception could be wrong. But that what it seems like to me.

Another concern is how far one can take this. Can, for example, an anti-Catholic group post ads on Catholic websits without the owners' consent and in the same manner as the Reid campaign is doing?

Again, thanks.

What you say *is* possible. Either an ISP could set up a 'proxy' and replace ads, or somebody whose software is insatlled on your computer could do that.

In fact the latter is probably more likely. What's your ISP?

It's hard to say which is happening: the ISP is replacing the ads without approval of the site owner, or the site owner is serving ads based on the client machine's location. Either is possible, both are done, and they have the same symptoms you report.

The trick would be to find someone in the same area who has a different ISP, and see if it's the site owner, or the ISP which is providing the ads.

I realize I am probably late to the game here, but you are forgetting about one actor in this situation.

It is neither the website owner nor the ISP that is changing what ad you see. Rather, it is the provider of the ads. Websites hire 3rd party companies to place ads on their sites. Those 3rd parties are hired by companies (or in this case, campaigns) to post ads on various sites, and some distinguish by IP address, which can target ads by location.

So, the situation goes like this:

Reid campaign --pays--> 3rd Party Add Company --pays--> Website you are viewing.

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