Lawyers Run The World Is Illegal Advertising the Next Boom?

Is Illegal Advertising the Next Boom?


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If you are looking for about anything illegal, the internet has made it much easier to find. While Silk Road, a service that can only be found through a complex system of Tor Servers, was the first of it’s kind many other services have popped up. Services like “BuyItNow” and “RAMP” are trying to compete in the global illicit trade, with some even buying advertising on Silk Road to get customers.

While these sites are mainly known for being able to buy almost any type of drug, they also traffic in porn, counterfeit money, hacker supplies and even untaxed cigarettes. While law enforcement would love to be able to track the purchasers and obviously the sellers, it’s almost impossible to do because of the anonymous nature of the services including a requirement by most to do business in only BitCoin or Litecoin.

With the growth of these marketplaces, there is a real question to be asked: what type of advertising will be coupled with these sites? Is there a market for some company to be the Kingpin of illegal online advertising, and what are the legal and ethical issues with this?

You may think I’m crazy for writing about this, because you’ll tell me that advertising anything illegal is itself illegal, right?

The courts in the US are still deciding on whether advertising illegal products are themselves illegal. While there are laws in different states regarding this, we do have First Amendment protection that has even overturned laws against advertising tobacco. In Lorillard Tobacco v. Reilly, the Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts ban on tobacco billboards within 1,000 feet of a school or playground, concluding that the rule was not narrowly tailored to advance a substantial government interest. There are a dozen similar cases that show that advertising a product does not equal the selling or making of the product.

So, in theory, advertising illegal products might itself be legal and the US government couldn’t do anything about it. A company based in another country with much lax standards might already not care, allowing someone to set up an operation on some offshore haven that advertises about anything you’d want to advertise. Someone is going to make millions on this, so why not you?

Most companies from Google, Yahoo and most major advertising networks have a limit on what they will allow advertised. Most have restricted any drug or tobacco content, and many will not advertise anything remotely illegal or “immoral” for lack of a better word. They don’t see doing business in the dark areas of the internet as something they want to do.

Yet, there are more than a few networks that place advertising on BitTorrent websites such as ThePirateBay. While the amount of networks that do business with BitTorrent websites has shrunk, there is still a huge market of buying advertising on these websites, especially to market certain more shady CPA products. They seem an ideal place to purchase cheaper ads that target an audience that might be more interested in dirty dating than more sites, or how to make money online?

It seems to me that someone is going to take this growing marketplace, with its new currencies and anonymity as a huge opportunity and start an advertising network that focuses on performance-based marketing. Let’s be honest here: many performance marketers don’t care where their ads show, because they only care about the result: someone buying the product. It’s a perfect solution to finding huge amounts of inventory, on the cheap and being able to sell it to anyone who wants to buy it, including those who want to buy and sell illegal products.

Here are a few considerations to think about however:

1)   What are your moral or ethical considerations? Where do you draw the limit? Is allowing advertising on drug related sites ok, but child porn unacceptable? In my opinion, I wouldn’t be involved in either, but someone might find free speech acceptable in all forms just to make a point?

2)   Do you want to do business on websites that seem to have a lot of questionable people buying products? In theory the worst of the worst are on these sites, including hackers. Do you want everyone who has access to everything illegal possibly destroying your clients business with excessive credit card fraud, hacking attempts?

3)   Can you grow using BitCoin and other currencies? Obviously you’d have to accept these, along with traditional methods. Is this something that you can have a business based on?

I’m just examining the issues here, just raising the questions. I’m not telling anyone that they should get into the illegal ad business, but instead being intellectually honest about the opportunities. This is a business, and while I find many things personally reprehensible, and think that anyone who gets into the blackmarket ad business is probably equally stupid and will end up in jail, there is a real possibility someone smart and savvy will create a viable business model that is both legal, ethical and profitable.

Do we need to take this part of the internet serious, and maybe in theory in the near future, maybe it will be more acceptable to be a part of it? I’m not sure there is an easy answer but we may as well start asking the questions.


Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.


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