Home Some UK and US government sites are ‘sharing data with ad brokers’

Some UK and US government sites are ‘sharing data with ad brokers’


  • 18 government websites in UK & US share visitor data with ad brokers.
  • Some US sites potentially violate CISA rules.
  • UK allows ads on .gov.uk sites with restrictions.

At least 18 government websites in the U.K. and the U.S. send visitor information to multiple online advertising brokers, according to a report. This includes an ad-tech business in China previously embroiled in privacy disputes.

Google previously blacklisted Yeahmobi’s SDK as “malicious” following an investigation into ad fraud and attribution abuse, Silent Push stated.

Selling ad space involves finding third parties willing to showcase themselves to the host’s audience. They can sell the space directly to the advertisers or go through an intermediary. Ad.txt files are aimed at combating certain types of ad fraud.

However, in the U.S. through the Registry Team, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) explicitly forbids the use of .gov websites for any commercial activities that benefit private individuals or entities, including online advertising.

The company said it into any .gov U.S. government domains with the ability to host programmatic ads, and found four domains with an ads.txt file that are potentially in violation of CISA rules:

  • mcdowellcountywv.gov/ads.txt
  • fortdeposital.gov/ads.txt
  • cohassetpolicema.gov/ads.txt
  • sports.celina-tx.gov/ads.txt

According to their investigation, the first three domains each list only one vendor in their ads.txt file—Google. The site sports.celina-tx.gov, however, lists dozens of partners in its ads.txt file. Although it displays no ads on public pages, the footer suggests it is managed by a vendor named SportsEngine[.]com.

U.K. government sites and ad brokers

However, in the UK, advertising is permitted on .gov.uk websites with certain restrictions. The .gov and .gov.uk sites identified by Silent Push publish an ads.txt file that specifies the companies allowed to automatically sell the site’s ad space to advertisers upon a visitor’s arrival.

A handful of authorities have been identified allegedly using the file including Transport for London, the country’s national weather service the Met Office, as well as various councils around England and Wales.

Silent Push states: “Whilst programmatic advertising is not prohibited on UK council websites, allowing a Chinese ad vendor with a questionable past to collect data on visitors to UK public sector websites is problematic for reasons that are self evident.”

The Council Advertising Network (CAN) is a U.K.-based organization that creates revenue for local authorities throughout the UK by managing digital premium and programmatic advertising on council websites.

CAN oversees the ads.txt files for all the mentioned UK domains. These files contained account IDs confirming that Yeahmobi was authorized to display ads and access visitor data from these domains.

After ReadWrite reached out, CAN confirmed that Yeahmobi were being removed from their publisher ads.txt files. In a statement, CAN said: “We take these matters very seriously, and after looking into this in some detail with the team, we have never had any ad quality issues with Yeahmobi in the past, nor are we aware of any Chinese links, but as a precaution we are removing them from all our publisher ads.txt files until further notice.

“We have also reached out to the native advertising partner working with them to ask for more insight into these claims,” they added.

Featured image: Canva

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Suswati Basu
Tech journalist

Suswati Basu is a multilingual, award-winning editor and the founder of the intersectional literature channel, How To Be Books. She was shortlisted for the Guardian Mary Stott Prize and longlisted for the Guardian International Development Journalism Award. With 18 years of experience in the media industry, Suswati has held significant roles such as head of audience and deputy editor for NationalWorld news, digital editor for Channel 4 News and ITV News. She has also contributed to the Guardian and received training at the BBC As an audience, trends, and SEO specialist, she has participated in panel events alongside Google. Her…

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