Are programmatic traders in APAC being catfished?

Are programmatic traders in APAC being catfished? The practice no longer exists solely in the realm of online dating. It’s happening across the digital ad industry and has become a global problem.

Ad buyers have been caught up purchasing inventory for what they think are premium sites, when in reality the ad placement shows up on a different site. This is known as domain spoofing and is a growing problem that publishers like the Financial Times have helped to raise awareness of by releasing information of domain spoofing on its own site. To get a sense of the scale of the problem, earlier this year Google conducted secret tests with key media partners like the New York Times.

During the tests, the media partners shut off their programmatic inventory for periods of 10-15 minutes, Google and partners then scoured the ad exchanges to see what inventory was listed. They found thousands of video and display spots listed on multiple well-known exchanges, despite none actually being for sale at the time. Together, with other sorts of ad fraud like bot traffic, this sort of ad fraud will cost advertisers $16.4 billion dollars globally this year, by some estimates.

With an eye toward transparency, the IAB introduced Ads.txt as a way to fight this type of fraud. Programmatic buyers are asking publishers to adopt Ads.txt as a way of making sure the inventory they are buying is actually from their sites.

Ads.txt quickly gained favour with media buyers, with many now stating that they will only buy inventory from publisher partners that have implemented the protocol. In fact, DBM recently stated that if you’re an SSP that isn’t listed on a publisher's Ads.txt file in bid requests, then they will not bid.

And despite a slow start in APAC, ads.txt is now quickly gaining traction - with big name publishers across the region like Astro in Malaysia, Kompas Group in Indonesia and Rappler in the Philippines acting as change agents - proactively reaching out to SSPs like Unruly to request the txt file to integrate. In terms of general adoption across the region, we’ve seen publishers in Australia and India jump aboard quickest, with SEA publishers in the middle and Japanese publishers lagging behind. Overall, we’ve seen about 60% adoption so far across APAC, and expect to hit 80% in the next couple of months.

Of course, not implementing ads.txt could be seriously painful for the 40% of publishers who’ve yet to sign up - they potentially face lost revenues as a result of not implementing these text files. However in many cases, this is not due to any fundamental issue with the protocol itself, but simply due to a lack of understanding and concerns over necessary resources.

So for those who are still on the fence, here’s a breakdown of the issues surrounding Ads.txt and what a publisher needs to do to adopt it.

What is it?

Ads.txt stands for Authorized Digital Sellers and allows publishers to add a text file to their servers, which is then integrated into programmatic platforms. Security from a simple text file - who knew?

This method helps publishers clearly communicate who is authorized to sell their inventory, adding additional layers of transparency for programmatic buyers. It has been introduced into the OpenRTB spec to enable DSPs to check whether or not the supply source they’re directly integrated into is authorized to sell inventory on behalf of the publisher that the supply has originated from.

Because the text file can only be posted by a publisher’s webmaster, partners within the ecosystem can be sure of the validity of inventory prior to purchase.

How does it work?

There are often two kinds of programmatic demand integrations - direct integration with DSPs or through third party exchanges. Either will work, but a direct integration provides publishers with added transparency but also with the peace of mind to know their programmatic pipes are as streamlined as possible.

Ads.txt creates a public record, making it possible for programmatic buyers to purchase inventory only from these pre-authorized sellers. DSPs can then deploy web crawlers to collect all the Ads.txt files available.

Utilizing the IAB’s description of the process, “Example.com publishes Ads.txt on their web server listing three exchanges as authorized to sell their inventory, including Example.com’s seller account IDs within each of those exchanges.”

Why should I care?

The first reason is simple: to make more money. Fraudsters are out there eating up demand by pretending to be your brand and website. This provides everyone involved the confidence to know they are buying what they’re bidding for.

Additionally, with players like Google already jumping onboard to enforce adoption, it’s likely that more will follow. Being left out of some of the biggest demand platforms could lead to irreversible damage to any publisher, large or small, and their programmatic revenue stream.

Getting started is simple. Reach out to receive information specific to your website from your supply partners and paste it into your Ads.txt file. It’s a simple way to fight a serious problem plaguing the industry. And remember, in terms of tech support ad tech partners do most of the heavy lifting...

Haifaa Daw is Unruly's VP of publisher services, APAC.

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