IAB UK CEO says it won’t involve police in 'Gold Standard’ fight against ad fraud, for now

Globally, marketers are anticipated to lose $16.4bn to ad fraud this year

The IAB UK doesn’t have any immediate plans to collaborate with law enforcement as part of its freshly unveiled Gold Standard initiative, in which the likes of Facebook, Google and News UK have promised to commit to cleaning up the digital ecosystem.

When pressed on whether the IAB would be looking to team up a police unit to probe into issues like ad fraud with a view to creating a unit similar to the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) – the London-based police operation designed to tackle copyright infringement – IAB chief executive Jonathan Mew said that, for now, this wasn’t the focus of the scheme.

“At the moment, this is about getting companies to adhere to industry best practices. That’s not something that we need law enforcement to help with, it’s something we can proactively do ourselves,” he said, adding: “Further down the line, perhaps we might get to that point but at the moment it's about trying to make sure we implement the basic things that really help.”

Globally, marketers are anticipated to lose $16.4bn to ad fraud this year, with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) previously saying the practice is “second only to the drugs trade” as a source of income for organised crime, predicting it will cost brands more than $50bn by 2025.

Despite this, little has been done to prosecute those benefiting from click fraud. At the start of this year a damning ‘Methbot’ report from White Ops which placed the cost of such activity to be $5m a day for advertisers was passed on to the FBI. At the time, the report author said a potential investigation was floated as a distinct possibility, but there has been very little reporting around the matter since.

More recently, in the UK the issue was brought to the fore after Uber initiated legal proceedings against mobile agency Fetch. The brand alleged that the business failed to return rebates and misrepresented the effectiveness of its mobile ads, claims the agency has strongly denied.

Sanitising the supply chain

Mew’s comments on the matter follow on from 23 IAB members inking a letter of intent promising to sanitise the digital supply chain. A mixture of vendors and publishers, notably including the duopoly, have vowed take a three-pronged approach to tackle ad fraud as well as brand safety and ‘bad ads’.

The play is just the latest move in a series of cross-industry initiatives designed to help publishers and platforms navigate increasingly choppy waters amid ongoing pressure from brands like P&G and Unilever to sanitise the supply chain, so what makes it different to the rest?

Admittedly, it is no small feat getting the big boys of advertising to commit to such a pledge, and while details on how, and when, exactly the IAB UK will implement its plans are still fuzzy, The Drum understands there will be detail to come in the coming weeks.

“The key thing for us is that we want to move the industry in the right direction as quickly as possible,” said Mew. “We’ve started with our board because it represents some of the most significant companies in the market and it also means that we can move quicker by starting with smaller number of members.”

Going for gold

One digital executive, who wished to remain anonymous, implied the IAB’s time would be better spent tackling base issues like how it actually comes to be that illegitimate vendors can set up shop online without any validation checks. “You don’t need a licence to start an ad network. If you had to be an IAB member to get a seat on an ad exchange that would be something,” they said.

However, independent ad tech consultant Paul Gubbins argued since there is no precedent for today's automated and programmatic landscape the Gold Standard pledge has an important role to play in pulling together the most pressing issues so the market can get behind “a collective, rather than a fragmented narrative.”

He continued: “Legal chops or not, of course it is not fruitless. The IAB sits at the centre of our industry and their members expect guidance and support. This initiative will be a massive help to many boards, both on the sell and buy sides, as they try to keep pace around legislation, product advancements and industry-wide best practices.”

While ad fraud is a focus of the pledge, the other two areas IAB and its launch partners are honing in on includes improving the digital experience be adhering to the IAB's LEAN principles and standards as set by the Coalition for Better Advertising.

The third concern is increasing brand safety by working with JICWEBS to ensure Display Trading Standards Group (DTSG) Brand Safety Principles are valuable, applicable and evolve with market expectations.

On the latter point, Mew confirmed that everyone on the list has the intention to sign up to become certified by JICWEBS for brand safety, but there is still "some work to do" before this is a reality.

How the IAB will measure the effectiveness of the pledge has yet to be decided, but market awareness and how its affecting brand perceptions of digital will play a key part.

For some, the IAB's attempt to go for gold may come across an a tacit admission that things could have been done better in the past to help build a sustainable future for the digital sector, but Mew was firm in his belief that this is a one of a kind opportunity.

"I think this is different," he said. "It's the first time we've got the biggest companies in the industry together to publicly agree to deliver on a bunch of iniaitives and I don't think that's happened before. This is a significant step forward, it's step one on the journey, there's still lots we need to do."

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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