Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman has produced some of the most interesting academic research on internet advertising, especially on the subjects of spyware, affiliate marketing fraud and PPC advertising.

But he’s not stopping at research. Yesterday, he published a post titled “Towards a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers“. In it, he suggests “five specific rights advertisers should demand as they buy online placements“.

They are:

  1. An advertiser’s right to know where its ads are shown.
  2. An advertiser’s right to meaningful, itemized billing.
  3. An advertiser’s right to use its data as it sees fit.
  4. An advertiser’s right to enjoy the fruits of its advertising campaigns.
  5. An advertiser’s right to resolve disputes fairly and transparently.

The rationales for each are, for the most part, pretty logical. On the right to know where ads are shown, Edelman writes:

It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.  Even for “blind buys,” advertisers need enough information to determine whether a given site qualifies to show an ad.  Anything less undermines accountability—inviting fraudulent sites that devour advertisers’ budgets.

On an advertiser’s write to use data as it sees fit, Edelman notes that the terms for Google’s AdWords API forbids advertisers from using the API to export their AdWords campaign data to another ad platform. In an email to his mailing list, Edelman states:

In my view, these restrictions are outrageous. Google has no proper basis limiting how advertisers use, copy, or store ads, keywords, and bids that advertisers themselves designed, wrote, and chose.

Edelman believes that these types of restrictions hinder competition in the marketplace. According to his analysis, a full 60% of advertisers using PPC use Google alone so the argument that Google’s AdWords API terms are anticompetitive does carry some weight.

The most interesting, and perhaps controversial, item in Edelman’s draft Bill of Rights is the notion that advertisers should have the right to “enjoy the fruits” of their campaigns. Edelman explains:

Incidental to an advertiser’s online ad purchases, various data is generated about users and their interests. “This user just clicked an ad that promoted automobiles,” an ad network might notice. “Maybe we should show the user ads from other car companies too.” From the ad network’s perspective, that’s found money, but it risks tainting the value the ad network delivers to the advertiser who bought the first click in the sequence. The harm is particularly acute when the first advertiser spent big money—perhaps buying thousands of CPM impressions—to find the rare user interested in an obscure subject.

His argument: the data collected from campaigns should essentially belong to the advertiser, not ad networks. Goodbye behavioral targeting.

While I’m not sure I agree with this, I think the part about “rights advertisers should demand as they buy online placements” is important. If advertisers don’t look out for their own interests, nobody else will. While smaller advertisers reasonably have little to no ability (individually at least) to get major companies like Google to listen to them, larger advertisers do have some clout.

Unfortunately, many of the advertisers that complain about less-than-satisfactory service and media haven’t given ad companies much reason to take their complaints seriously. It’s very unlikely that the ‘rights‘ Edelman suggests will ever be rights in the sense that they’re guaranteed by law, but by standing up for what they believe is just and voting with their wallets, advertisers may still be able to obtain some of them.