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The battle against ad fraud is far from lost

The fight against ad fraud may seem like a chess match, but the adtech industry has many weapons in its arsenal. / Pixabay

Marketing chiefs from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) met with the heads of the trade group Trustworthy Action Group (TAG) to discuss how best to broach the matter of ad fraud, which is forecast to cost the industry in excess of $16bn this year alone, this week, amid wider efforts to meet this need from tech vendors.

For instance, adtech outfit Zvelo, which provides content categorization and malicious detection data services, released its Invalid Traffic (IVT) dataset this week, which it claimed will help eliminate wasteful ad spending.

​By leveraging trillions of data points, Zvelo said the subscription-based IVT data service provides a continuous feed of IPs that support non-human traffic – including traffic from data centers, web crawlers, fake crawlers and malicious bots – and gives advertisers insight into non-human and otherwise fraudulent traffic sources.

This enables buy-side and sell-side platforms to engage in pre-bid blocking of any websites engaging in behavior known to be fraudulent. Publishers can also take advantage of the IVT dataset to eliminate non-human traffic coming to their websites, Zvelo said.

“By providing exceptionally granular and comprehensive knowledge into undesirable traffic sources, advertisers can eliminate wasting budget on impressions that do not reach a worthwhile audience,” said Cordell BaanHofman, vice president of business development at Zvelo, in a statement. “Fraud continues to plague digital advertising, but DSPs, SSPs and publishers are now able to receive unparalleled, accurate and continuous insight with the Invalid Traffic dataset. By improving campaign performance and providing protection from bot traffic, the IVT dataset is designed to offer a fast return on investment.”

The IVT dataset is the third Zvelo service released this year to improve digital ad transparency. These services also include a bot detection service, which was released in January, and Zvelo’s Comprehensive Page-Level Traffic dataset, which it said pinpoints non-human and low-quality web traffic down to specific web pages.

These moves come as industry bodies increasingly band together to combat fraud.

Mike Zaneis, chief executive officer of TAG, which was co-established by the IAB, ANA and 4As and is tasked with cleaning up the sector, said ad fraud is now a top priority for all major marketers.

“We just finished briefing top CMOs at the ANA board meeting [June 8] and they are taking serious action,” he said. “That is evidenced by TAG's incredible growth, adding nearly 200 members since the start of the year, including major marketers, agencies, ad tech and publisher companies. Collectively we are having a demonstrable impact on ad fraud, as evidenced by the ANA/WhiteOps study that showed fraud rates were decreasing.”

The ANA was unable to provide on-record comment. Although Zaneis also pointed to the high-profile Methbot click fraud operation, which reportedly netted $3m to $5m a day, as a good example of what’s possible.

“As for Methbot, the industry moved lightning quick to address that major threat and the botnet ceased operations within a matter of weeks of the TAG/WhiteOps briefing for TAG's 200+ Compliance Officers,” he said. “This is a concrete proof point that we can win the war on fraud when the industry comes together around a single effort.”

Additional efforts include a tool from the IAB Tech Lab called ads.txt, which is geared towards helping advertisers to not purchase misrepresented media inventory from open ad exchanges, which have formerly been synonymous with malpractice.

Ads.txt is a pre-formatted index of authorized sellers that publishers can use to register their official partners and programmatic buyers can use to filter out fake inventory. Publishers can register for ads.txt after a public consultation period ends June 19.

Neal Richter, co-chair of the IAB’s OpenRTB initiative and a consultant at Hebbian Labs, said brands are asking for transparency over a multitude of things, with the latest ads.txt initiative, arguing that “people need marketplaces that are well lit”.

He added: “Obvious brands are asking for more transparency in programmatic, which is not just one thing, it’s a multitude. There’s different types of fraud in the ecosystem, and we believe that trust is pretty important in programmatic for big brands to engage with the ecosystem.”

Richter went on to say: “Reselling is a common practice, hence it’s important that publishers authorize the reselling, and this is about ensuring...that companies that are not doing the right thing are not getting paid.”

Separately, TAG is also developing a payment ID system it hopes will help make ad fraud less attractive to organized crime along with “certified against fraud” accreditations to companies to help ease marketers’ minds about the organizations they work with.

This also comes the same week as a report from anti-fraud outfit Pixalate was published, which suggested fraudsters are increasingly turning their sites on the lucrative world of video advertising, especially in the fast-emerging connected TV space (see below).

Tyler Loechner, marketing manager of Pixalate, told The Drum that if advertisers are buying traffic in the connected TV (CTV), or over-the-top (OTT), space they are buying fraudulent inventory already, with over half of all ad impressions in this space invalid.

He added: "Relative to display, online video or mobile, the Connected TV/OTT space is relatively new — especially in terms of programmatic trades. Fraudsters have established patterns in desktop display and video and are establishing practices in mobile, but the CTV/OTT space has not been around for long enough for the fraudsters to have found their niche. We like to describe the CTV/OTT space as a breeding ground for fraudsters, which means they are trying many new things out."

Additional analysis by Ronan Shields.

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