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tl;dr:

  • A Programmer writes a web browser Extension to download ads but not display them.
  • The effect is that Sites accessed through this extension get to charge Advertisers for the ad being served, even though it will not be seen.
  • The Sites don't know whether the extension is being used.
  • The Extension User may not know that the Extension is resulting in the Advertiser being charged for undisplayed ads.

Who, if anyone, is committing fraud?


I asked this question in the webmasters stack exchange. But perhaps I was premature in asking "can I?" before asking "should I?" as I got negative feedback.

Basic question: Is it fraudulent to download ads but hide them before the user can see them, and still allow the content-creator to receive money from the ad server?

Personal thoughts

  1. My research on an existing extension called AdBlock suggests it is legal basically because nobody controls how you view files you've downloaded onto your computer. In addition, there is no contract between content-creators and users that to access the content you must also consume ads.

  2. It is legal for you to watch TV, and when an ad comes on, you leave to go get a snack. The TV channel still receives ad revenue, and they can't coerce you to audibly/visibly experience the ad. Your TV set still receives it from your cable company or whatever, but you don't have to watch it.

  3. From observation #2: Since advertisers cannot control how you consume their ads, and there is no contract binding content and ads, blocking ads and passing them off as read or downloaded should be legal.

I'm not a lawyer, but I've read that just because someone is losing money does not mean a law is being broken.

Counterpoints

  1. Advertising impressions are not technically made, therefore content-creators are unfairly receiving money.

  2. Users of such an extension are stepping out of AdBlock's safety zone since sending back a read-receipt is like multiple clicking on ads to increase your own impression rate.

I'm primarily asking for the US, but interested in other jurisdictions.

  • Your point 2.: Careful. Just because two things have the same result doesn't mean one can't be legal and the other illegal. – gnasher729 Apr 21 '16 at 9:19
  • The web site is accepting money for making the ad available. He is suppressing it on the web site. This is like a (print) newspaper accepting mony for an ad and then not putting it into the published output. – sabbahillel Apr 21 '16 at 13:06
  • @script from whose perspective are you asking if this is illegal? The end internet user? The author/distributor of the extension? The website serving the ads? – user3851 Apr 21 '16 at 14:00
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    @sabbahillel this is my fault for not making it clear, pretend I do not own a website. Basically, it is adblock that still generates ad revenue for youtubers per se – Script Kitty Apr 21 '16 at 21:12
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    So to try to uncover the question: The situation is: A programmer writes an extension to download ads but not display them. The effect is that sites accessed through this extension get to charge for the ad being served, even though it will not be seen. The sites don't know whether the extension is being used. The user may not know that the extension is resulting in the advertiser being charged for undisplayed ads. And if the author of the extension knows about the ad revenue consequences he doesn't care. And your question is: Who, if anyone, is committing fraud? – feetwet Apr 22 '16 at 1:20
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Certainly in Australia this would be illegal as "deceptive and misleading conduct in trade or commerce" if your app was produced in the course of business. You are in trade or business and you are lying to another business that the add has been downloaded (true) and read (false).

From the ACCC:

It is illegal for a business to engage in conduct that misleads or deceives or is likely to mislead or deceive consumers or other businesses. This law applies even if you did not intend to mislead or deceive anyone or no one has suffered any loss or damage as a result of your conduct.

Many people think this only applies to advertising and promotion, this is not true, it applies to all conduct of the business.

  • @Dawn I'm not talking about the user; I'm talking about the producer of the software. – Dale M Apr 21 '16 at 7:14
  • @dale writing a browser extension is entering trade or business? Many people write their own browser extensions and never publish them... Ony use them on their own computers. Are you saying that by simply writing this and using it, that the author has entered "trade or business"? – user3851 Apr 21 '16 at 14:03
  • Also, if you are talking about an author that isn't also the user, it isn't clear that writing software that allows a user of that software to "lie to another business" is the same as the extension author actually having lied him/herself. – user3851 Apr 21 '16 at 17:25
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    Unless you have some case law to back you up, I'm convinced this answer is wrong. The Misleading or deceptive conduct law in Australia is for the purpose of consumer protection. I can't find any Section of The Competition and Consumer Act that would prohibit the authoring or distribution or use of a browser extension that reports back to a website that an ad has been read. If you could even point to what Section you claim this implicates, that would be a good start. – user3851 Apr 21 '16 at 17:30
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    @DaleM You still haven't shown that it is the authoring of a piece of software itself that is the "conduct that misleads", rather than use of that software by the end-user. Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the authoring itself is the conduct that misleads, you don't say how this would apply to the typical non-business author of a browser extension. – user3851 Apr 21 '16 at 22:21

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