Google purged itself of 1.7 billion bad ads last year—more than double the number it axed in 2015—a fact which belies a problem set to swell unless more advertisers refuse to turn a blind eye to inflated numbers caused by ad fraud.
To stress the point, Google pointed out that over 1,300 accounts were suspended last year for attempting to game its system by pretending to be news, a trick known as “tabloid cloaking”. Such is the problem that during a single sweep for tabloid cloaking in December 2016, it took down 22 culprits responsible for ads seen over 20 million times by people online in a single week.
Bad ads are disguising themselves as topical news stories for click bait, threatening the integrity of the media industry at a time when fake news is a legitimate concern. Between November and December last year, Google reviewed 550 sites it suspected of “misrepresenting content to users”, including impersonating news organizations, it took action against 340 of them for violating its revamped AdSense misrepresentative content policy. Of that number, nearly 200 publishers were booted out of its network permanently.
“Every player in the ad tech industry—publishers, agencies, marketers, and ad tech providers—must be held accountable and take appropriate steps to eradicate fraud and improve ad quality,” said Marc Rouanet, co-founder and president at Sublime Skinz.
Ad buyers are joining the fight against the “fake news” that many people blame for misinforming voters during the presidential campaign.
Although the focus initially fell on Facebook and Google, where made-up headlines became easy to find, pressure has also come to bear on lesser-known companies that provide the financial motivation for fake news.
Now ad-fraud fighters, usually hired to prevent scam artists from stealing ad budgets with fake traffic, are being asked to help brands avoid websites with real audiences but with fake stories.
“Brand safety” online has historically involved making sure ads don’t appear on pornographic or vulgar websites. That’s changed, as fake news sites have found themselves working with nearly every major player in ad tech.
“This is a new frontier in the fraud war and it came out of a weird place,” said Scott Meyer, CEO of Ghostery. “And it’s going to be a challenge for these companies for exactly that reason.”
IVT (Invalid Traffic Detection) includes hijacked devices, malware, bots, and misappropriated content – all forms of non-human traffic. Kellogg C-level suite executives asked what the company was doing to combat IVT fraud. In response, the firm worked with Krux and comScore to attack and reduce IVT (see deck). The process saved the company an estimated $2 million.
Among the key takeaways:
We interviewed Jasper Snyder, EVP, Research & Innovation: Cross-Platform, from The ARF who provided his perspective on Ad Blocking/Fraud and the key takeaways from 8 of those AM sessions with industry leaders.
What were some of the highlights for you of all of the discussions and presentations on these areas?
There were lots! Ted McConnell (Rocket Fuel) was fascinating in how he talked about recognition of the problems here. He’d figured out that ad fraud, in terms of size, is basically the equivalent of there being 5,000 bank robberies per day. Ted also spoke about our mindset regarding fraud, making the point that we have to focus less on combating fraud per se than about combating its effects, namely by developing an immune system. “I don’t care how many fraudsters are out there, because if I can see them, discount them, and not pay them, they don’t matter,” Ted said. This is particularly important given how quickly the “bad guys” can react – if there were a solution outlined on the stage at AM, by the very next day the fraudsters would have figured out how to defeat it.
As the buying and selling of digital advertising has grown more automated, the industry has grappled with various forms of fraud.
For example, scam artists have built networks of bogus websites, where they sell ads and use computer programs—or “bots”—to make it look as though these sites are regularly visited by humans. In other cases, fraudsters have used software to hijack people’s computers and direct web traffic to suspect sites loaded with ads.
Two senators noted that the ad industry has undertaken various efforts to stamp out fraud but questioned whether self-regulation will go far enough. “It remains to be seen whether voluntary, market-based oversight is sufficient to protect consumers and advertisers from digital advertising fraud,” the letter said.
Ad fraud on mobile devices has been less frequent than on desktop PCs, mainly because there is less money invested into mobile ads at this time, i.e. of the $60 billion spent on internet ads in the US in 2015, only $21 billion was spent on mobile, according to PwC. This lower levels of mobile ad spending translates into slimmer revenue opportunities for mobile ad fraudsters.
However, this will change in the coming years, as more money piles into mobile ads.
A corollary effect of malware and ad fraud is that it also encourages ad blocking adoption. Over 40% of consumers stated that they use ad blockers to protect themselves against malware and viruses, according to a recent survey by Optimal.com and Wells Fargo. Mobile ad-blocking usage is high and growing fast: over 419 million people worldwide according to a study by PageFair.