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.
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.
The ANA and White Ops have conducted studies on ad fraud. Who then should be responsible for combatting the bot army? Of the advertisers taking part in the survey, 17% see themselves as the responsible party, while 26% thought all stakeholders had a shared responsibility to fight the fakers, 21% held the Publishers most accountable and a plurality 36% said the Agency.
Conference Paper – “Combat Fraud to Drive ROI” – comScore/Krug/Kellogg
Fraudulent and non-human traffic creates serious issues for all sides of the online advertising industry. While the common strategy of blacklisting domains can help advertisers reduce wasted impressions, it blocks potentially valuable audiences – hurting the reputation, yield and CPMs of the publishers involved – and only partially solves the problem for the advertiser.
Understanding the pitfalls of common approaches, we developed an automated system to manage invalid traffic at the impression-level, improving delivery beyond domain- and site-level blacklisting.
We will be sharing learnings to help advertisers, agencies and publishers combat fraud, reduce waste and ultimately improve quality of effectiveness research in digital.
From MediaPost (Accenture) – “Global Consumer Awareness of Blockers Reaches Critical Mass”
Accenture has released a global research study of ad blocking among 28,000 consumers in 28 countries. Fully 61% of respondents were aware of ad blockers, and 42% said they would pay to remove ad interruptions.
Gavin Mann, Accenture’s global broadcast industry lead, said, “The industry needs to do everything possible to make ads less of an infringement on precious screen time, by building on early successes that deliver targeted, relevant and entertaining ads.”
A notable takeaway was not to make the mistake of putting the majority of effort into fighting ad blocking; it’s an impossible battle to win. The company recommends focusing on moving the entire ecosystem forward and making advertising less invasive and more personalized.
The Media Rating Council, the official arbiter of media ratings in the U.S., has issued new guidelines for digital media vendors and companies as a result of the growing concern over online advertising fraud. These guidelines, which will address the detection and filtering of “invalid traffic” generated by bots and other non-human sources, are discussed in this Media Post article by Erik Sass.
The rules are presented in a document entitled, “Invalid Traffic (IVT) Detection and Filtration Guidelines, Version 1.0.” Among the key points in the guidelines: the requirement for enhanced internal controls covering employee behavior policies, partner qualification processes, analysis of acquired or paid traffic, periodic risk assessments, and the correct procedure for challenging a decision to remove invalid traffic.
These rules apply to all measurement products that involve tagging, beacons, cookies, redirects, and other types of message tracking, and to various types of census tracking.
The Council expects all MRC-accredited organizations to comply with the new guidelines. Although the rules take effect immediately, accredited organizations have a grace period of 180 days to comply with them. All future applicants for accreditation will be evaluated for compliance with these rules.
See all 5 Cups articles.
TAG, the marketing industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group announced a new anti-fraud initiative, “Verified by TAG,” which consists of two components: a registry of “verified” companies, and a new payment-identification system. The goal of this initiative is to bring transparency to the digital ad ecosystem.
Companies in the digital ad supply chain can now apply to the TAG Registry to be verified by TAG as a trusted advertising party. Registered companies will receive a TAG-issued ID that will identify their ads to partners in the supply chain.
According to TAG’s CEO, Mike Zaneis, “This is a first-of-its kind program to create an evergreen market of buyers and sellers with lots of different channels.”
TAG is also introducing a payment-identification system. The goal of this system is to create a record of who gets paid for every impression, and therefore, prevent criminals from receiving ad dollars by selling fake impressions on sites they list in ad exchanges.
See all 5 Cups articles.