Adscape: Harvesting and analyzing online display ads

Paul Barford, Igor Canadi, Darja Krushevskaja, Qiang Ma, S. Muthukrishnan

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    Over the past decade, advertising has emerged as the primary source of revenue for many web sites and apps. In this paper we report a first-of-its-kind study that seeks to broadly understand the features, mechanisms and dynamics of display advertising on the web - i.e., the Adscape. Our study takes the perspective of users who are the targets of display ads shown on web sites. We develop a scalable crawling capability that enables us to gather the details of display ads including creatives and landing pages. Our crawling strategy is focused on maximizing the number of unique ads harvested. Of critical importance to our study is the recognition that a user's profile (i.e., browser profile and cookies) can have a significant impact on which ads are shown. We deploy our crawler over a variety of websites and profiles and this yields over 175K distinct display ads. We find that while targeting is widely used, there remain many instances in which delivered ads do not depend on user profile; further, ads vary more over user profiles than over websites. We also assess the population of advertisers seen and identify over 3.7K distinct entities from a variety of business segments. Finally, we find that when targeting is used, the specific types of ads delivered generally correspond with the details of user profiles, and also on users' patterns of visit. Copyright is held by the International World Wide Web Conference Committee (IW3C2).

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationWWW 2014 - Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on World Wide Web
    PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Electronic)9781450327442
    StatePublished - Apr 7 2014
    Event23rd International Conference on World Wide Web, WWW 2014 - Seoul, Korea, Republic of
    Duration: Apr 7 2014Apr 11 2014

    Publication series

    NameWWW 2014 - Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on World Wide Web


    Conference23rd International Conference on World Wide Web, WWW 2014
    Country/TerritoryKorea, Republic of


    • Measurement
    • Targeted advertising
    • User profiles

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Computer Networks and Communications
    • Software


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