Some of Yahoo’s traffic appears to come from pirated and adult sites, research shows

What is the problem that advertisers and Angelenos have in common? Bad circulation.

Yahoo, one of the largest publishers in the United States, was the recipient of this traffic. The researchers suggest that traffic from what the industry often considers invalid was directed to Yahoo-owned sites. In some cases, people visiting adult and piracy sites were redirected, via something called pop-unders, to Yahoo-owned properties like TechCrunch and Yahoo’s entertainment, sports, and finance sites.

While this represents a small amount of traffic, it is an example of bad actors trying to take advantage of the opaque ad tech ecosystem.

How it works: Say you’re in the mood to enjoy adult content or a pirated copy of sonic the hedgehog 2.

When a user visits a specific URL, a trigger is fired to open another tab in your browser or a new window that appears below the content you are currently viewing. Visitors to sites like, and *checks notes* were all redirected to Yahoo properties over a period of a year, Rocky Moss, CEO and co-founder of the detection company DeepSee ad fraud, says Marketing Brew.

  • Often, these Yahoo sites ran video ads, which typically cost more than display inventory.
  • Advertisers spotted include Honda, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, H&R Block and migraine medication Emgality.

In other cases, visitors were paid to visit Yahoo sites. DeepSee observed that Yahoo receives what is called “incentive traffic”, where, often for pennies, users are paid to visit a publisher. DeepSee noticed that sites owned by a company called Prodege called,, and were all directing traffic to Yahoo properties.

Usually, users have to watch content for a certain amount of time to earn rewards. (Marketing Brew created a Swagbucks account and after clicking a recommendation, was sent to streamer PlutoTV, which aired the 2003 film How to lose a guy in 10 days).

Moss first noticed the traffic in February 2021 when DeepSee saw that Swagbucks – a site that pays users for performing specific online activities like taking a survey, watching a video or visiting a website – was driving traffic to Yahoo.

DeepSee, which operates web crawlers that scan some of the worst parts of the internet for ad fraud, so noticed that porn and hacking sites also redirect users to Yahoo.

Occam’s Razor: “Nobody’s just going to send the traffic there for free,” Moss told Marketing Brew, noting that Yahoo has a degree of plausible deniability regarding who bought the traffic. “It could have been someone Yahoo partnered with to drive traffic to their site,” he said.

For the pop-unders, researchers found a clue in the URL that led users to Yahoo – the root domain contained the phrase “”. Viral Sparks, a New York-based marketing company (though most employees are based in India, according to LinkedIn), claims to work with publishers to create an “ads monetization and optimization strategy,” though their site does not explicitly say “buy”. Circulation.” Viral Sparks CEO Rohit Ajmani did not respond to questions posted on LinkedIn or via email.

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“We learned that some partners were operating outside the parameters of our relationship and have ensured that activity has ceased with nominal impact. Yahoo does not work with Viral Sparks,” Yahoo spokeswoman Allison said. Butler, in an email Butler declined to answer whether Yahoo had ever worked with Viral Sparks, how much traffic was ultimately involved, and whether Yahoo had reimbursed advertising partners who purchased the advertising affected by that traffic.

This is important because according to Google and ad tech company The Trade Desk, this type of traffic would be considered invalid.

  • Google defines invalid traffic as “advertising traffic that does not represent the user’s true intent or interest” and, when detected after the fact, says it sometimes reimburses affected advertisers “when appropriate and possible”.
  • It specifically considers pop-under and incentivized traffic invalid.

Integral Ad Science, a company that helps advertisers with factors like brand visibility and safety, views drive traffic as “discounted inventory,” a subset of invalid traffic.

Detective story?

According to Google, the company “discovered that this type of traffic represents only a very small percentage of actual traffic.”

Asked by Marketing Brew to examine the extent of the problem, data ad measurement firm Method Media Intelligence found that between June 2021 and March 2022, less than 1% of Yahoo’s impressions contained a pop-under traffic signifier. or incentive.

“A lot of the time what it tells me is that there’s someone on the team who, in order to hit a metric, decided to engage in this type of practice,” Shailin told us. Dhar, CEO and Founder of Method Media Intelligence, noting that although ad blockers and browsers have largely stifled the practice, it still happens. “It’s certainly more common than any media-buying organization would want to be true.”

But for all intents and purposes, when an advertiser buys video inventory on Yahoo’s entertainment page, they don’t expect the traffic to come – accidentally – from people visiting

“The great thing about these schemes is that they weaponize real users,” Moss told Marketing Brew. Later, he added, “Not only will the editor think he’s real, but any kind of fraud check will think he’s real, because he’s a real human…he’s a real person, but that’s not the ideal type of engagement for an advertiser.”

Update 4/22/22: After publication, IAS clarified to Morning Brew that it considers incentivized traffic to be “discounted inventory” or a subset of invalid traffic. Room has been edited to reflect.