Publishing company Gannett Co. provided inaccurate information to advertisers for nine months, misrepresenting where billions of ads were placed, according to researchers who provided their findings exclusively to The Wall Street Journal.
owns USA Today as well as news outlets in 46 U.S. states, from the Arizona Republic to the Detroit Free Press to the Palm Beach Post. Like many publishers, it sells ad space on its sites through real-time digital auctions.
In the case of Gannett, advertisers thought they were buying an ad on one Gannett site—very often the flagship USA Today—but actually purchased space on another, such as one of its many local outlets, according to ad industry researchers.
Gannett said in a statement that it provided the wrong information and that it regrets the error, which it said was unintentional. The publisher said its auctions still had some information, such as page URLs, that would enable advertisers and ad-tech companies to detect the true identity of the website where an ad was being placed.
The error was added to Gannett’s ad systems by one of its employees in May 2021, and was detected and corrected by the company on March 4 as it worked with a partner to integrate new technology, according to Gannett executives familiar with the situation. They said the issue may have harmed Gannett’s business and that the company is determining whether it will issue refunds to advertisers.
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