Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ethics and Blog Advertising

Given Brian Leiter's recent news about the possibility of advertising on the Leiter Reports, unarguably the most popular Philosophy Blog (Readership of 5000 per day!)

I thought I would open the question about the ethics of advertising on philosophy & bioethics blogs. Having browsed the home pages of many publishers in the setting up of the Motherlode I have been surprised to see how many of them have Adsense ads on their sites (the google powered context sensitive advertising). And a number of philosophy blogs have some advertising, mostly contextual. (Usually either Adsense or Amazon.

There seem to be two possible complaints:
1. Authenticity
2. Inappropriate content

In regards to authenticity I don't really see the strength of this complaint. If it is inauthentic to discuss philosophy and earn profit then there are bigger concerns than a couple of links on a blog, the whole of academic philosophy is tainted. I think it would be a concern if you were blogging on philosophy just for the money, but I can't see the problem if you are blogging on philosophy and happen to earn money. Blogging takes a reasonable amount of time and effort, and I see no reason why that shouldn't be rewarded, and blogs can and do cost to keep running. Take Leiter's site, the amount of content posted and the time this must take out of other research activities for those involved is high.

In terms of inappropriate content I think this can be fine, as long as the blog/site owners are careful to control the content so that it doesn't end up displaying inappropriate products. In this sense Leiter's direct advertising bypasses this concern since he can control who advertises with him directly. Of course few philosophy blogs have anything like the pull of the Leiter Reports and are unlikely to get direct sponsors which means contextual advertising is probably their best bet.

This can end up with sending the wrong message though if you don't keep a close eye on it. In a light hearted note I was surprised to find one of my preferred philosophy blogs, having recently switched to Amazon advertising to be advertising Playboy at me! Particularly bothersome since Amazon boast that their advertising works with your site content and shopping history to serve appropriate advertising. I am not sure what Amazon thinks about philosophers if they think that a dozen philosophy texts, a couple of computer bits and two books on child rearing for my wife = proud customer of playboy...

On a less light hearted note I was surprised to find a perfect example on the home page for the American Journal of Bioethics found here: AJOB who likewise have Adsense adverts on their site. Further some of the products being advertised seemed to at least be of a questionable nature, namely advertising for the storage of stem cells from cord blood & another site offering the quick and fast (within one week) procurement of organs for transplantations.

While the American Journal of Bioethics is being used as the foil here, I want to make sure this is not intended as a direct criticism of them, as I said many publishers use Adsense on their site, and so do many blogs on ethics or otherwise. Indeed I have contemplated using Adsense or Amazon as a means of generating funding for INPAB for subsidising conferences etc. Instead, I am wanting to draw attention to and awareness of some of the problems using context sensitive advertising can lead to and how to resolve these problems.

The way Adsense works is that it searches the text of your website and puts advertising into the boxes on your site that relate to the content of your site. Depending on the advertising you are paid either for every thousand views or for every time someone clicks through one of those advertising links. Google gives you the ability to block certain advertisers or advertising products to both prevent competition (so for example if Bioethics or the Journal of Medical Ethics started to advertise via Google, the AJOB could block their advertising) and to make sure adverts don't contravene the standards of the website.

Cord Stem Cells:

As you can see the advertising claims that banking your cord stem cells is the best gift you can give your child at £1120 a pop it had better be pretty good. But presently the best medical advice is that unless there is some particular reason that your child is likely to be need that cord blood in the future these services are best avoided. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states:

'Families may be vulnerable to emotional marketing at the time of birth of a child and may look to their physicians for advice. No accurate estimates exist of the likelihood of children to need their own stored cells. The range of available estimates is from 1:1000 to 1:200,000. Empirical evidence that children will need their own cord blood for future use is lacking. There also is no evidence of the safety or effectiveness of autologous cord blood transplantation for the treatment of malignant neoplasms. For these reasons, it is difficult to recommend that parents store their children's cord blood for future use.'
In Britain the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have likewise warned against private cord blood banking.

So here we have a commercial practise which medical practitioners recommend against, getting defacto ethical endorsement by being positioned on the home page of one of the largest medical ethics journals. This seems clearly bad practice, and should probably be blocked by the AJOB.

Organ Transplants

This is more difficult to assess, since it is harder to tell if the site is a front for some of the worse practises in organ transplantation such as transplantation tourism, some quotes from their website do seem worrisome though:
We can arrange that you can have the necessary transplant within 7 days. Prices are always depending on each individual. Finance is also available.

We can arrange all known transplants. These include:

* Heart
* Lung
* Kidney
* Liver

The difference is that we are reliable in our offerings and can offer a quality service world-wide. We have locations world-wide and will use the best possible one for you. We put a high value on ethics. All donors are checked and adequate. Priority is given to all our clients

Important legal notice: we are not part or trading in organs!
It is hard to see how they are not trading in organs, if they can arrange a transplant for anyone who can pay in 7 days...

Harder to judge, but probably better to err on the side of caution and not allow these adverts.

Is using Adsense wise when you are providing a portal to ethical advice? The answer to this question seems to be possibly when Adsense is used well and you have someone keeping an eye on the ads and blocking inappropriate advertising, then Adsense provides a means of income to underwrite your activities. However if you don't keep a close eye on what you are inadvertently advertising, you might end up being associated with products you don't approve of.

Do you use Adsense on your website or blog? How have you kept the advertising appropriate?

1 comment:

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