P2P Advertising: Just More Spam

Ever wondered where all these bogus search results in P2P networks come from? It seems like you can’t use Limewire anymore without getting videos that suspiciously seem to echo your search request, but on playback just open a bunch of pop-ups for adult Youtube clones and classified websites.

Chances are these videos are brought to you by P2Pads.com – a company that promises its customers keyword-based advertising delivered through P2P networks.

Traditional P2P networks like eDonkey and Gnutella still attract about 9 million users at any given time, and more and more advertising companies want to tap into that market. Mountain View-based P2P startup Skyrider raised a total of $20 million last year, promising mainstream media companies a “desirable, tech savvy audience.”

P2Pads had a little bit of a different background. The company belongs to Gallery Traffic Service, a Canadian-based adult advertising group. P2Pads still does a lot of adult advertising, but the company is apparently eyeing the mainstream market as well. In the words of P2Pads owner Mark Hurson: “We have an amazing amount of traffic for ringtone, music, video, gaming, adult and many other ‘niches’.”

Their weapon of choice for capturing this traffic are short video clips with slightly misleading titles that trigger browser pop-up windows from within Apple’s Quicktime media player. Of course, most media companies don’t want to be accused of spamming their customers, which is why P2Pads is very particular about describing their approach as targeted. From their website:

“Using your media files (ie: commercial videos, audio ads, promotional images) we embed them with your clickable or pop up advertising. Using either keywords, demographics or categories that you provide to us in advance we are able to target your specific markets with ease.”

So how do you target a specific market in a P2P network? Answers for that can be found by looking into the history of the company. P2Pads was founded by Brad Gosse of Yourbrain Media. Gosse hired programmers for his P2P advertising software on Rentacoder.com, and some of his postings are quite telling:

“I am looking for a way to deliver files through Limewire based on search queries. (…) Files would be delivered as $searchquery + .mp3.”

Gosse changed to a just slightly more targeted approach a few months later, hiring someone to produce up to 20,000 copies of a media file based on a list of keywords.

To be fair: P2Pads isn’t doing anything illegal with these precisely targeted ad campaigns, and it’s not the only company that is polluting P2P networks. There are many more players in this market, and the spectrum reaches all the way from rogue outlets spreading spyware to multi-million dollar startups like Skyrider.

But they all face the same problem: Users should have a chance to differentiate between commercials and content before they download anything. That’s not possible if companies mislabel multimedia files and sneak in Pop-Ups as payloads.

Ultimately P2P advertisers have to work together with P2P software makers to separate their commercials from content. Otherwise P2P advertising will just be another word for spam.

Janko Roettgers is a Los Angeles-based journalist and book author. He is also the editor of P2P Blog.

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