Image of the Google data centre cooling towers in Oregon, USA.

Materiality, policy and power in advertising markets: ad servers and header bidding

Head shot of Donald Mackenzie

We are excited to welcome Donald MacKenzie (University of Edinburgh) who will deliver the second talk in this year’s SKAPE seminar series.


Policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic are trying hard to address the dominance of the markets for online advertising by big Tech platforms, especially Google and Facebook. This paper will examine the roots of Google’s position as the main intermediary connecting advertisers to publishers (including, very consequentially, news publishers such as the Guardian).  

Those roots are material, especially via the central position of Google’s ad server, DFP or DoubleClick for Publishers (the ‘ad server’ is the cloud service that decides which ads to show to which user). They also involve the narrow-mindedly economic reasoning that led EU and US policy-makers in 2008 to approve Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick. DFP has, however, been ‘hacked’ (as interviewees put it) via a material practice known as ‘header bidding’. The hack has opened up this crucial technical system, helping us disentangle the interwoven histories of ad servers, policy making and header bidding. 


Donald MacKenzie is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His work constitutes a crucial contribution to the field of science and technology studies and social studies of finance. His current research is on the sociology of markets, focussing on automated trading. He worked in the past on topics ranging from the sociology of nuclear weapons to the meaning of proof in the context of computer systems critical to safety or security.


This event will take place in person at the University of Edinburgh, Chrystal Macmillan Building, Room 3.15.

Cover photo credit: Photo by Google.


Oct 26 2022


12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


University of Edinburgh
Chrystal Macmillan Building, Room 3.15