Ben is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School where he studies and teaches about the economics of online markets. His work combines software engineering with legal and economic analysis, aiming to understand both how online markets function and also how they might improve.
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 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 institutions and incentives 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 led the fight against deceptive advertising software, “spyware” and “adware.” He provided the first irrefutable proof of unwanted software sneaking onto users’ computers without consent — not to mention “confirmation” screens that installed software even when a user specifically declined. He later uncovered the adware and web sites that showed sexually-explicit images to kids and families, entirely unrequested. He identified the ad networks and advertisers whose money set the schemes in motion, along with the affiliate commission fraud and click fraud that let perpetrators drain advertisers’ budgets.
Ben’s consumer protection writings include critiquing online “safety” certifications that fail to adequately protect users, flagging numerous deceptive advertising practices, and uncovering airlines’ breaches of their own tariffs, false statements of “taxes” that are actually just fees, and attempted retroactive changes to passenger contracts. As an attorney, Ben has brought class action litigation vindicating the rights of minors to get refunds when they buy digital trinkets from Apple and Facebook, and protecting advertisers from worthless and unwanted ad placements in popups and worse.
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 Future of TV Coalition, 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 software 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.