Deciphering geo-targeting on OpenX; and why Mediaplex is a cheeky sod

Between a few of us here and my friend Pete in the UK, we’ve spent nearly two weeks trying to get OpenX to work. We’re finally getting ad-serving technology put in in-house, after years of relying on the US ad networks we primarily work with. It’s also walking the talk: since I have advocated that Wellington moves to open source if I am elected mayor, then it makes sense that our Linux servers are running ads off an open-source ad-management program.
   The first problem might have been caused by me personally: OpenX wouldn’t install. Pete re-uploaded the files, we chmoded the directories, and away we went.
   Autocade has been the first domain to host the ads that we are sending along, and it’s been so far, so good.
   However, today we decided to give the home page of the Lucire web edition a go, and encountered a problem.
   All was well for the first few hours, but then I noticed something strange: two different computers at this office were behaving differently with the geo-targeting.
   We had fed in banners from two of our US networks. Let’s call them network A and network B. They were set, for New Zealand, to display at these percentages (roughly):

Network A: 98 per cent
Network B: 2 per cent

On computer one running Windows XP, the above was working.
   On computer two running Windows Vista:

Network A: 0 per cent
Network B: 100 per cent

   I’ve a fair idea of how geo-targeting works and two computers on the same network going through the same router with the same (outward) IP address do not, in theory, behave differently.
   But, as Homer Simpson once retorted, ‘In theory, communism works.’
   I hope the boffins can explain this one, because usually I have gone against expert advice to get computer hardware working. (The network was hooked up many years ago by yours truly, doing the exact opposite of what the instructions said—after, I might add, the instructions failed. My personal laptop and its Bluetooth connection were hooked up by finding the most illogical method possible.)
   Surfing to the OpenX forums (Pete had been on the chat earlier, but no one was around), I tried to log in. Unfortunately, this proved impossible and errors followed:

OpenX forum bug

No one was there at all, presumably due to the database error shown at the bottom of the page:

OpenX forum bug

   So, if any OpenX experts are out there and can answer our geo-targeting question, please give us a shout in the comments.

Despite fiddling around with all these online ads, there’s one company I know I will never deal with. And it’s not as though the online ad industry has come to us with clean hands, either, so this sullies them further.
   After surfing on July 10, I found I could no longer get on to Facebook. Every time I typed, I got the screen below (excerpted):

Mediaplex redirection

Which led me to here:

Mediaplex redirection

   Somewhere along the line, I must have got to a web page that hijacked my web browser. It didn’t alter the hosts’ file, and I was eventually able to correct this by deleting all cookies and clearing the browser cache, but it left me with one clear message: I will never deal with Mediaplex.
   Based on the above, this conduct is highly unethical and is nearly as bad as planting a trojan or a virus on to a user’s computer. And Googling the incident, I found that many others had encountered the same, sometimes when typing in other sites.
   I was saddened to find out that Mediaplex is part of Valueclick, a company I dealt with for years. We eventually ended our contract with Valueclick. I don’t recall the reason exactly, but I suspect it was down to the low advertising rates the company delivered. There were no concerns over its behaviour.
   When I was on the Mediaplex site, I noticed that Commission Junction was part of the same group. We have been asked to join CJ many times during the 1990s and 2000s but always read the terms and conditions. It had something similar to this clause (which is in its current agreement):

Dormant Accounts. If Publisher’s Account has not been credited with a valid, compensable Transaction that has not been Charged-back during any rolling, six consecutive calendar month period (“Dormant Account”), a dormant account fee at CJ’s then-current rate shall be applied to Publisher’s Account each calendar month that Publisher’s Account remains an open yet Dormant Account or until Your Account balance reaches a zero balance, at which time the Account shall become deactivated. Transactions will not be counted if the Transaction subsequently becomes a Charge-back.

In English: if you don’t make a sale over six months, they have the right to charge you. When you pay it all back, they kill off your account.
   There’s nothing illegal about that, but considering every other affiliate programme we have seen does not do that, then I bet a few people who were less careful about reading their agreements would have been taken by surprise. I found it questionable, and refused to deal with the company. (It seems, if you believe some of the links on Google, that we got off lucky.)
   This latest stunt tarnishes the entire group: Commission Junction, Mediaplex and Valueclick. Caveat proponor.

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11 thoughts on “Deciphering geo-targeting on OpenX; and why Mediaplex is a cheeky sod

  1. Hey Jack,

    Try restarting your router. It should fix the Mediaplex/Facebook redirect issue. It has nothing to do with ValueClick.

    Good luck.

  2. Gentlemen: as mentioned, I fixed this issue by emptying the cache. Are you sure it’s router-related? It only affected a single computer on this network and the router has been running happily for five years.
       May I ask why you suspect it was not Mediaplex’s hand? I my mind, someone had had to create a program to do the forwarding, and Googling reveals many, many incidents (not always with Facebook).

  3. I am sure it’s neither a universal condition nor a Mediaplex marketing strategy to redirect Facebook users to their home page. That makes no sense for anybody, including their clients like Facebook.

  4. Solomon, what you say makes sense: there’s no way, if I were Mediaplex, would I ever permit something like this to be done. If this is malicious, then I hope they catch whomever is doing this, as it does the firm no favours. (This blog post would, in fact, be useful for Mediaplex to use as an example of the impression a regular netizen gets from this activity.)

  5. Do you have any pointers to reproducible conditions that don’t boil down to a router issue? Or can you post one here?

  6. As I said, after I cleared my cache and cookies, I was fine on the one affected system. I remain entirely unconvinced that it was a router issue in the first place: surely that would mean every computer in this office would do the redirect? The fact is, only one computer did, and the others accessed Facebook as normal.
       I would also guess that clearing the cache and cookies on one machine would not have miraculously reset the router.
       The short answer is that I cannot give you pointers on how to reproduce this, nor how the exploit got on to that computer in the first place. But if you hunt around on Google for Mediaplex redirect, there are many cases of this.

  7. Jack, I find OpenX so buggy it’s almost impossible to work in. This morning, every time I’ve made a change (ie to a contact email address – not to code or anything complicated!) I get an ‘error – bug’ message. Also, besides your problem getting into the forums, whenever I click ‘help’ while I’m in my account trying to do something, it logs me out and I have to log back in to search the forums for help. It’s idiotic. Also, I appreciate that it’s open source, but I’ve found the forums pretty useless. I’m not a programmer, so my questions are pretty basic and I’ve yet to find a single response on the forums, or get a single response to a topic I’ve posted.

    At the moment, I’m trying to place a Mediaplex campaign in OpenX. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent on it, or how much misery it’s caused.

  8. Juliana, I seem to have been lucky as OpenX 2.8.5 is now running and things seem to be going smoothly.
       I still can’t explain why I had the issue above but it seems to have fixed itself.
       The forums are indeed useless. I have not received a single response to my questions, and I keep getting logged out, too.
       With your Mediaplex campaign (though thanks to the problem I have had, I’m not a fan of this company!), have you made sure that the HTML code is not being modified by OpenX? Add in your banner with the HTML code option, then, below that box, select ‘Do not alter HTML’.

  9. I started having the Mediaplex redirect yesterday afternoon and so far have been unsuccessful in resolving it. It is not the router, only one workstation is affected, my husband’s laptop and the other three computers here get to facebook just fine. I have flushed the cache, deleted all cookies and scanned for malware. I will try the cache flush one more time, if that does not work I will probably restore to factory defaults….

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