Tech viewpoint on online ad fraud
A view from Nick Reid

Tech viewpoint on online ad fraud

Online advertising fraud has caught the headlines recently after the Interactive Advertising Bureau's estimate that as much as 36 per cent of web traffic is considered fake and Twitter revealed that 23 million of its users are bots.

Understandably, advertisers expect real consumers with buying potential to view their carefully crafted online ads, but criminals are gaming the system and getting paid for fake, or non-human, traffic at the expense of brands. The question advertisers and agencies should be asking their tech partners now is: what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen to us?

Knowing which type of fraud you are most susceptible to is the first step. Click fraud and impression fraud – better known as botnets – are essentially non-human-generated traffic, with computers simulating views or clicks. Botnets can make sophisticated use of proxy servers to make one hijacked computer pose as hundreds and even thousands of viewers. Fake pre-roll is a video ad that automatically plays on a web page when the viewer has shown no intention of watching a video.

Mismatched URLs are an advanced form of fraud where website URLs are purposely obfuscated to hide where an ad really appeared.

You might also be wondering whether ad fraud only happens on programmatic media buys. In short: no.

Botnets and fake pre-roll predate programmatic buying and impact the entire digital industry. We believe purpose-built software can provide additional layers of brand safety and transparency.

Botnets and fake pre-roll predate programmatic buying and impact thte entire digital industry

So what’s the upshot for advertisers? They are wasting money on fake viewers. Botnets hurt media owners and premium publishers because they are forced to compete with sites that have fake viewers.

Ultimately, this drives down cost per mile. Botnets can also inflate and skew publishers’ first-party user data and, revealingly, many of the top infected segments are the most expensive demographics to reach online – mums, for instance.

Remember: if a deal looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Abnormal viewing behaviour, irregularly clustered views, suspicious use of proxies and low price points are indications of potential fraudulent activity.

We use brand-safety technologies designed to prevent unacceptable ad placements and to detect and block sites with inappropriate content, auto-play ad placements or fraudulent bot-driven traffic. We recently identified three "botnets" – responsible for more than 30 million fake video ad views per day – and shared their details publicly.

Online fraud is a serious and growing problem, but anyone who says they have a definitive number or percentage is not likely to be in the weeds fighting these every day. It fluctuates an awful lot. Rather than throwing out a big number, we continue to update our blacklist of sites we know to be fraudulent to help protect advertisers.

Nick Reid is the managing director at TubeMogul