Fraud: A View From the Frontlines

For players across the digital advertising ecosystem, there’s no question about the biggest threat facing the industry today. Fraud is everywhere — and not just of the bot variety. Pixalate CEO Jalal Nasir points out that “fraudsters are deploying machine learning to unleash never before seen types of fraud.”

Tim Sims, Senior Vice President, Inventory Partnerships at The Trade Desk agrees. He says there has been a significant “erosion of trust” in the industry, and as a result, transparency is no longer just a buzzword that pays lip service to the idea of trust and quality in digital ad marketplaces.

Many agree that ads.txt address one major component of transparency, which is the path to supply. Sims explains, “publishers can say, these are my approved paths to my inventory.” Jana Meron, VP of Programmatic & Data Strategy at Business Insider adds, “sellers need to place their ads.txt files on their pages and buyers need to make sure their technology has the ability to siphon out publisher IDs that are in the ads.txt files.” Meron points out that for Business Insider and many other publishers, the biggest — and toughest — fraud problem is spoofing.  Publishers don’t know who is spoofing their site until it’s too late, resulting in disastrous consequences.

However, opinions diverge when it comes to how widely ads.txt need to be adopted in order to be effective. Meron favors industry wide adoption, while Sims doesn’t think there needs to be a critical mass. Brendan Riordan-Butterworth, Senior Director for Technical Standards at the IAB Lab believes that critical mass is reached with “one buyer and one seller” and asserts that more domains are adopting the technology everyday.

But all of these major players agree that fraud in any form must be eradicated. Ad spend must reach the publisher to ultimately deliver the message to the consumer, and publishers must be confident that when they move inventory through programmatic channels, they won’t be pickpocketed along the way. Even though publishers usually don’t have anything to do with non-human traffic, they often end up eating the cost.

John Murphy, VP of Marketplace Quality for OpenX, looks toward a more transparent future. “Ultimately, we want to get to a place where no one is paying for non-human traffic,” Murphy says. “Where non-human traffic is neither charged nor paid for.”

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