Benjamin G. Edelman
Associate Professor of Business Administration
Ben is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School
in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets
unit. His research explores the public and private forces shaping Internet architecture and business opportunities, with particular focus on online advertising, competition, regulation, and consumer protection.
Ben is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit.
Ben's current research explores the public and private forces shaping Internet architecture and business opportunities. He has written about the implications of growing market concentration in Internet search and resulting risks for advertisers. Examining the mechanisms that allocate pay-per-click advertising, Ben compared the revenue of alternative pricing rules, quantifying the losses from early inefficient auction systems. He has also analyzed the stability and truth-telling properties of modern online advertising systems, and he designed a simulated bidding environment to evaluate bidding strategies empirically.
Ben's recent online privacy investigations uncovered a series of privacy violations including Google Toolbar continuing to track user browsing even after users "disable" the toolbar, as well as Facebook revealing users' names and details to advertisers (even after specifically promising the contrary).
Ben's work on Internet infrastructure includes devising policies and institutions to mitigate the worst effects of scarcity of IPv4 addresses, the numeric identifiers most computers currently use to connect to the Internet. Previously, Ben flagged systemic flaws in Internet filtering systems used in US libraries and schools , and his software performed the first large-scale testing of international Internet filtering (in China and Saudi Arabia). Ben's empirical analyses uncovered the extent of expired domain names subsequently used for pornography and registered with intentionally inaccurate WHOIS data.
Ben has sought to block deceptive advertising software ("spyware" and "adware") by chronicling vendors' various unsavory tactics. He was the first to assemble video proof of nonconsensual software installations through security exploits and through "confirmation" screens that install software even when a user specifically declined. Exploring the revenue streams for deceptive software, he documented advertisers supporting spyware, advertising intermediaries funding spyware, affiliate commission fraud, and click fraud.
Ben's consumer protection writings include critiquing online "safety" certifications that fail to adequately protect users, flagging numerous deceptive advertising practices, and documenting airlines' false statements about "tax."
As a Student Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Ben analyzed the formative documents and activities of ICANN, ran Berkman Center webcasts, and developed software tools for real-time use in meetings, classes, and special events. He oversaw ICANN Public Meeting webcasts and operated the technology used at ICANN's first twelve quarterly meetings.
Ben's consulting practice focuses on preventing and detecting online fraud (especially advertising fraud). Representative clients include the ACLU, AOL, the City of Los Angeles, the National Association of Broadcasters, Microsoft, the National Football League, the New York Times, Universal Music Group, the Washington Post, and Wells Fargo.
Ben teaches an MBA elective course entitled The Online Economy, a survey of all manner of online business. Ben's teaching includes real-time on-screen chalkboard-style notes using a tool he offers to other interested instructors.
Ben holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Economics at Harvard University, a J.D. from the Harvard Law School, an A.M. in Statistics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an A.B. in Economics from Harvard College (summa cum laude). He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.
benedelman.org - personal page, additional writings, and blog
protecting online advertisers
Online advertising presents remarkable efficiencies—better targeting, improved measurement, and greater return on investment. Yet there are challenges, including unwanted placements, fraudsters inflating advertising expense, and supplies with significant market power. In a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers, Edelman proposes five protections that advertisers should expect when buying online media. A follow-up assesses the causes of online ad fraud and recommends adjustments to help protect advertisers' interests. Edelman also detects all manner of advertising fraud draining advertisers' budgets.
regulating — and competing with — decentralized software platforms
New platforms reinvent traditional markets as varied as transport, short-term accomodations, and media. (Consider Uber, Airbnb, and YouTube.) With new business models come new questions of regulation which Edelman and coauthor Damien Geradin assess in Efficiencies and Regulatory Shortcuts: How Should We Regulate Companies like Airbnb and Uber?
(forthcoming in Stanford Technology Law Review
A notable characteristic of many of these platforms is that they flout longstanding rules. (Consider requirements of special insurance and permits.) In Whither Uber? Competitive Dynamics in Transportation Networks
(Competition Policy International
), Edelman examines the implications when these platforms compete. Two platforms may start out lawful, but each correctly anticipates that the other can cut corners to get an edge. Edelman argues that Uber's many disputes -- from privacy to safety to tax, employment, contracting, and more -- are best understood as the result of this selection mechanism: Once a company establishes a corporate culture premised on ignoring the law, its employees may feel empowered to ignore many or most laws, not just the (perhaps) outdated laws generally impeding its launch.
Meanwhile, what of the firms that have to compete with Uber and kin? In Spontaneous Deregulation: How to Compete with Platforms that Ignore the Rules
(Harvard Business Review
), Edelman and Geradin offer four strategies for firms in this challenging position.
platform strategy: getting started; confronting powerful intermediaries
Digital platforms are attractive businesses because they create significant value and network effects protect competitive advantage. But they face considerable start-up challenges. Indeed, every platform is empty at the outset. And most platforms require multiple types of users. For instance, it’s not enough that many people want to book taxis by smartphone. Drivers must also be willing to accept smartphone bookings. Edelman's April 2015 HBR article How to Launch Your Digital Platform
offers strategies for getting started when facing these challenges.
Meanwhile, many companies find themselves dependence on a few key platforms. Almost every retailer looks to Google to refer customers, and it’s rare to find a manufacturer whose products are not sold on Amazon. What to do if these platforms seek unreasonable fees or impose other harsh terms? Edelman's June 2014 HBR Mastering the Intermediaries
offers four promising approaches.
In some markets, platforms insist that the price to a consumer must be identical whether the consumer buys via a platform or buys directly from a seller—making the platform seem free to the consumer, though the seller nonetheless pays a significant fee. In Price Coherence and Excessive Intermediation
(published in Quarterly Journal of Economics
), Edelman and coauthor Julian Wright explore markets with this structure—finding that it leads to inflated retail prices, excessive adoption of intermediaries' services, over-investment in benefits to buyers, and a reduction in consumer surplus and sometimes welfare. This article is forthcoming in .
IPv4 scarcity and IPv6 transition
Every device connected to the Internet—from PCs to tablets, printers to cash registers—needs an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The current addressing standard, IPv4, uses addresses with 32 binary digits, allowing approximately 4 billion IP addresses. These have largely been allocated, calling for improved methods to transfer addresses to those who need them most. In Running Out of Numbers: Scarcity of IP Addresses and What to Do About It
, Edelman examines the technical and institutional underpinnings of IP address scarcity and transition. In Pricing and Efficiency in the Market for IP Addresses
(forthcoming, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics
), Edelman and coauthor Michael Schwarz explore market rules to assure sensible outcomes. Additional articles (1
) consider legal aspects.
airline price advertising violations
Ever felt the "taxes" on air travel are unduly high? In other travel contexts (most notably, rental cars), genuine government-imposed taxes often approach or even exceed the amount payable to service providers. But when airlines quote fares, they sometimes include as "taxes" certain carrier-imposed surcharges they set on their own, not required by any government and used only to defray their ordinary costs of operations. In an online article and companion formal complaints to the Department of Transportation, Edelman revealed multiple airlines affirmatively misrepresenting "taxes" that are actually fees airlines set for their own benefit. Edelman also showed "fuel surcharges" of amounts far in excess of what regulations permit. The DOT's investigation is ongoing.
teaching tools: modernizing chalkboards
This toolkit lets an instructor build discussion notes during class, based on class discussion. Benefits include improved readability, streamlined distribution and search, improved classroom dynamics (instructor faces forward at all times), and accommodations for students and instructors with special needs. Tools are available for use by other interested instructors.
personal rapid transport
Personal rapid transport offers high-quality local service via centralized computer control, a dedicated right of way (without grade level crossings), and offline stations. As a result, service is on demand (vehicle comes when you call, like an elevator) but personal (with no stops for others to get on or off, like a taxi). Is this dream or reality? Edelman's PRT teaching case
evaluates the prospects for early installations.