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Ad Fraud In-depth Ads.txt

Inside the IAB's drive to push criminals out of the programmatic supply chain


By Ronan Shields, Digital Editor

May 17, 2017 | 9 min read

The IAB this week has issued a series of guidelines to promote cohesion among different tiers of the media supply chain including: a means of eroding the black market for ad inventory; plus a format that better enables dynamic content delivery, as programmatic spending is tipped to near $33bn.

IAB drive to clean up adtech

The IAB Tech Lab's ads.txt will help shine a light on legitimate players in the industry / Pixaby

The IAB Tech Lab has today (May 17) announced a new initiative to eliminate the black market for counterfeit and unauthorized ad impressions, a method of fraud that is often transacted in automated buying via domain spoofing.

The clean-up effort has been enabled by a tool called ads.txt, a pre-formatted index of authorized sellers that legitimate publishers can use to register their official partners, and programmatic buyers can then use as a registry to filter-out fake or misrepresented inventory.

'Removing the fake Rolexes'

Alanna Gombert

Alanna Gombert, IAB senior vice president, technology and ad operations, plus IAB Tech Lab general manager (pictured above), said the introduction of the ads.txt safety tool would lead to a more simplified, and safer supply chain for advertisers.

“Ads.txt can take both the ‘fake Rolexes’ of digital ad inventory and our industry’s ‘luxury handbags that fell off the back of a truck’ out of circulation,” she added.

Mike Zaneis, chief executive officer of TAG (the trade group co-established by the IAB, ANA and 4A’s tasked with helping to clean up the sector) added that the establishment of the sector would also help publishers by helping them “shine a light on the legitimate sellers for their inventory”, as well as helping buyers establish legitimate programmatic resellers.

“It adds another vital component to our collaborative industry-wide efforts to validate legitimate companies, add transparency to inventory, and ultimately stop criminals from defrauding our industry of billions of dollars,” he added.

After a public consultation period ending June 19, publishers can register for ads.txt by placing a file on their websites registering the authorized resellers of their media space, which the buy-side of the industry can then use to cross-reference and then choose appropriate inventory sources.

Borrowing from the book of search

Andrew Casale, chief executive officer of Index Exchange (whom has previously been outspoken on his views about the ills of the adtech space) observed similarities between the latest initiative and a key development in the maturity of the search sector of the industry.

"Ads.txt takes a proven page out of the book of search, allowing publishers to directly declare their authorized sellers, much in the same way robots.txt is used to declare instructions for search engines," he commented.

"This will fundamentally change the game in the supply chain of programmatic, and will eradicate spoofing, and other unsavory and unauthorized activities that happen far too easily today."

How 'domain spoofing' is undermining trust in legitimate players

Domain spoofing

The move is part of the trade body’s OpenRTB initiative, and is a project that Dr Neal Richter, a data science consultant and ex-chief technology officer at Rubicon Project, helped devise, he said he believed the project will lead to a noticeable reduction in ad fraud via domain-spoofing.

He added: “Let’s illustrate the impact counterfeit inventory can have on the advertising industry with an example. Imagine you just got a great deal on new pair of shoes from a brand you have always admired, but unknowingly they were a great deal because they were actually counterfeit.

“The first day you wear them they completely fall apart, and you blame the bad experience on the brand and vow to never buy that brand again. The counterfeiter used the power of the shoe’s brand to make a sale and the legitimate brand didn’t receive any compensation, but more importantly, this lower-quality, lesser product harmed the brand's reputation.”

Chris Bell, Adobe Advertising Cloud, group product manager, inventory, said the move should help reduce the impact of the “recurring issues around brand safety, fraud, and media quality” have on advertisers’ willingness to invest in automated media trading.

Shifting from 'programmatic to automation' through a common taxonomy

New IAB report shows huge surges in spend on mobile advertising

Ads.txt was released as part of the IAB Programmatic Symposium, hosted in New York City, where it also released 'An Evolving Framework for Advertising Automation', a paper geared towards shifting the industry-wide discussion from “programmatic to automation.”

The trade body hopes the paper will do so by promoting greater cohesion in the workplace by helping to establish “a consistent vocabulary and structure for programmatic advertising”. This includes detailing the core processes, tasks, and platforms involved in automating digital advertising.

The IAB’s senior vice president, data and ad effectiveness, Dennis Buchheim, said that with almost 80% of digital display ads set to be transacted using this technology (equating to a $33bn marketplace according to eMarketer numbers) there is a pressing need for standardization. “It’s time to redefine and be more specific about the full range of underlying ‘programmatic’ processes, tasks, and platforms,” he added.

The report identifies five key consideration steps in the automation lifecycle: plan; decision; transact; deliver; and optimize.

Dynamic content ad standards

Creative Content

Meanwhile, the trade body also this week released a Dynamic Content Ad Standard, a newly-ratified set of protocols that will enable creative developers, ad content management systems, ad servers, and media platforms to more efficiently build, serve, and measure ads based to online audiences based on a user’s context, as well as other data.

The IAB describes it as a structured system of metadata for defining creative components and their asset variations in an ad unit. In other words, it defines the content of an ad using metadata or schema to describe each component or asset in an ad, such as image, copy, animation and/or video.

The IAB said it saw a need for a standard that would increase the fluidity of ad formats and allow for more of a content-driven model where an ad becomes a rendering of several pieces of content because the industry has evolved beyond the notion of an ad format being a fixed container or size.

It was clear the time was right for a standard that describes not an ad format, but the content that would ultimately form an ad, the IAB added.

“Concurrent with this, many brands are recognizing that content, context and data-driven marketing is a great way to keep consumers engaged – especially if using data – [and] such content could be personalized to a user based on their interests, demographics, etc,” added Diaz Nesamoney, chief executive of Jivox, and co-chair of the IAB Tech Lab Dynamic Content Ad Standards Committee, in a blog post.

Nesamoney said the aforementioned assets “can [now] be organized into groups and rotated or selected based on data triggers by serving platforms and measured at a very fine grain for creative and media optimization”.

What’s more, Nesamoney said the standard is adaptive enough to accommodate all of the ad formats in use today “and could probably be used in formats that have yet to be created”.

“I am sure we will soon see chatbot ad formats using this standard and, who knows, maybe even VR ads using this standard,” he added.

“Now that we’ve taken that feedback and incorporated it, the standard has been ratified and is ready to enable creative developers, ad content management systems, ad servers and media platforms to efficiently build, serve and measure ads based on the user’s context and other data,” Nesamoney wrote.

“It will serve as a foundation to a new era of dynamic ads, which have quickly become a big game-changing innovation in the advertising and digital marketing world.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Lacy

Ad Fraud In-depth Ads.txt

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