GamerGate's new approach: Attack Gawker's ad tech

GamerGate, the Internet outrage phenomenon that refuses to go gently into the Web’s good night, has entered phase two. It’s again trying to hurt Gawker Media’s ad revenue, but this time it’s going after the media company’s web of ad tech vendors instead of complaining to Gawker advertisers.

Reddit user HistoryOfGamerHatred posted to a GamerGater subreddit on Wednesday a lengthy tutorial about all the ad tech companies Gawker supposedly uses, urging fellow GamerGaters to convince those firms to no longer work with Gawker, thus cutting off Gawker’s advertising revenue.

“It’s time to expose how this network operates so you can hopefully target all heads of the hydra instead of just the shiny ones,” the poster wrote.

The redditor — who claimed to be a former employee at Rubicon, an ad tech firm — provided an exhaustive list of all the ad tech companies Gawker purportedly employs, urging fellow GamerGaters to tell those ad tech companies that Gawker was violating those companies’ terms of service.

The post specifically mentioned that Gawker may possibly be using both Criteo and Datalogix, which, it claimed, would be a violation worth pointing out to those companies. Another redditor provided a detailed post about Gawker’s potential violation of Google’s terms of service in the instances when Gawker included nude photos in some of its posts.

It’s unclear if the approach has yielded any results thus far. Gawker, which declined to comment, would not confirm the accuracy of the list, but executives familiar with Gawker’s business said there has been no effect. Criteo is aware of the reddit post but would not say whether Gawker was violating any of its terms of service.

“We are aware of the reddit post. However, Criteo does not comment on external communications due to data privacy and other confidentiality considerations,” Criteo spokeswoman Emma Ferns said.

Google declined to comment, saying it does not comment on specific complaints or publisher relationships.

“The ad tech vendors have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of clients, and unless they were able to prove that Gawker was doing something illegal or very against the rules, I can’t imagine anyone would pay them any heed,” said ad tech entrepreneur Ari Paparo.

It marks a new level of sophistication in GamerGate’s continued effort to sink Gawker, which became the collective’s primary target after Valleywag-turned-Gawker writer Sam Biddle sarcastically tweeted that GamerGaters nerds were worthy of bullying. It is also a sign that ad tech is now playing an outsized role for publishers, possibly exposing them to these kind of novel activism campaigns.

“This is why they can flaunt so much: They have a distributed network of ad revenue sources that use impersonal transactions of advertisement data,” reads the reddit post, which has over 1,200 “upvotes” from reddit users. “Even if you get a sponsor to publicly denounce them, there is a really good chance that company might accidentally end up paying them per click/eyeball/etc.”

Convincing advertisers to withdraw their dollars is an arduous process requiring GamerGate to petition a slew of brands one by one. But if it can hurt Gawker technologically, then even willing brands will be shut out from advertising there. Since Gawker sells many of its ads via exchanges, they’re available to any interested advertisers at any time, making it nearly impossible for even GamerGate to keep up.

The challenge to Gawker’s ad technology also speaks to one of the inherent downsides of programmatic ad-buying. Gawker has been able to retain many advertisers in spite of GamerGate by virtue of its relationships with those brands. But it can’t improve a technological problem with a relationship.