Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Marco Ricci, CEO of Adloox, an ad verification firm.
Recent reports have highlighted the growing threat of ad fraud and the fact that many advertisers, platforms and publishers are struggling to cope with the quickly evolving and growing nature of the challenge. News that Google had to purge itself of 1.7 billion bad ads last year illustrates the scale of the problem. We assumed the impact of ad fraud went no further than wasted ad dollars but recent revelations have shown how deep and dark the problem can go.
Many in the industry look at ad fraud as a singular fixed threat. The reality is it is an arms race where the technology involved is constantly evolving and new types of fraud are emerging on a regular basis. Part of the problem is that most advertisers and publishers are only aware of the most common examples, those that have been around for some time and are well-documented like botnets and fake domains. However, a new generation is emerging, such as forced mobile auto-refreshing, hijacked tags, falsified location data, domain spoofing or ‘methbot fraud.’ The list continues to grow as fraudsters become smarter and more agile.
So how does the industry stay ahead of the fraud and ensure that ad dollars are being spent in the right way? Setting standards at a global level is the only way we’re going to meet the challenge. These standards will need to be adaptable and responsive enough to grow and evolve as the threat does. The global nature of the threat needs an equally global response. Fraud doesn't take a country-by country approach and stay inside the lines. Therefore, the solution to fight fraud also needs to be a cross-country and broader spanning approach.
The Media Ratings Council (MRC) is currently offering the kind of premium model and benchmark of capability the rest of the world should be looking to match. Achieving the MRC accreditation is a tough, arduous process, that ensures everyone is held to the same standards. These strict and meticulous guidelines are exactly what we need to be able to fight the threat of fraud in our digital ecosystem. Industry leaders like Google (and YouTube) should be setting an example for smaller players by earning its accreditation. I applaud their efforts to be audited by the MRC and hope that others soon follow. Moreover, I call on brands from outside the U.S. to step-up and consider harder, more detailed accreditation than what may be available in their own country.
While critics complain about the MRC adding complexity to the process by constantly adding new reporting requirements, it is precisely this complacent attitude that has gotten us into the situation we are in currently. Quality comes at a cost and being transparent will help assure the industry that the data being reported can be trusted. Too many agencies are complaining of different numbers and capabilities from each verification vendor. That doesn’t warrant having to pay for three or four. It means consolidation with one that is accredited across most if not all the required subjects.
The developers building malware continue to adapt and look for chinks in our armour to infiltrate and undermine the system. That means any set of standards we create will need to be equally sophisticated and complex to fight it. Plus it will need to have the global reach to tackle the threat wherever it may emerge. We need to move beyond a country-only approach to meet the global nature of the problem. But are we looking in the right place to detect it and stop it? Does reporting on website domains go deep enough? How do we really detect invalid traffic, most of which is hiding a lot deeper than we first thought?
The time to insist on deeper auditing is now. Up to 80% of the invalid traffic is hiding at a user — not website — level, yet most of the tools on the market don’t offer this deeper reporting. They should be. Agencies are trying to optimize against top-line viewability scores, while suppliers get the same non-transparent report for free, claiming they are covered. The brands themselves are somewhat in the dark, that is until their brand name gets roped into a front-page exposé story. With all this, it’s no surprise that fraud is increasing not decreasing and advertisers are starting to demand answers and accountability.
The sheer magnitude of the digital advertising market means there will always be sinister people looking to exploit it. But, if the media and marketing worlds pool our resources and come up with a global, more aggressive standard, we have a chance of staying one step ahead and moving towards an industry with greater transparency and trust for all involved.