Shining the Light of Transparency on Ad Fraud

A Report from IAB Tech Lab Reboot

Day two of the IAB Tech Lab Reboot conference explored the best weapon we have against ad fraud – transparency. Over the years, IAB Tech Lab has developed standards like seller.json, SCO, ads.txt, and app-ads.txt, all of which have made a significant impact on the industry’s efforts to reduce fraud. Industry experts participated in discussions throughout the day about all aspects of fraud. Here are our take-aways:

Follow the Money
All industry efforts must be designed with the one goal of making it economically unfavourable to commit ad fraud. This includes the development of partnerships with legal authorities to drive intelligent investigations as well as prosecution for cybercrime.

Ad Fraud is a Sophisticated “Industry”
Where fraudsters used to be fairly rudimentary in their set-ups by leveraging data centres, lacking cookie technology, behaving like bots (making it relatively easy to spot), today it’s a whole other world. 75% of fraud lives on user devices with fraudsters having access to user and device IDs. Additionally, most of the criminal activity now mimics human behavior through action distribution algorithms. Years ago, ad fraud represented a side income – today, it’s organized crime with full executive teams operating in agile work structures.

Fraud Follows Ad Demand – Connected TV is Next
CTV is particularly vulnerable due to the fact that different platforms have different rights and carriage agreements for content. The stakes are significantly higher when the value of the content is higher. One sector that has historically been plagued with ad-supported copyright infringement is the film industry. The IAB Tech Lab is working hard to develop solutions that will address CTV specifically in the coming months and has already released Vast 4.0 and app-ads.txt standard, an extension of the ads.txt specific for the mobile ecosystem with the goal to enable aggregators and other companies buying ad inventory to do so from legitimate and authorized suppliers.

Adopting Anti-Fraud Mechanisms Requires Rapid Adoption
Speakers at the event concurred that one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to ad fraud. It seems that in the end, it will be economic incentives that will drive the adoption the industry requires to clean up the supply chain. We’ve seen this from a regulatory perspective in Europe where the GDPR triggered mass adoption of the IAB TCF framework in a very short period of time as the new regulation threatened several monetary punishments.

One speaker cited the example of the adoption of secured eCommerce environments. Many years ago, there was no requirement for credit card processing to occur on securely encrypted sites. When the credit card companies, having faced enormous exposure and risk, decided to make it mandatory, the industry quickly got in line.

It takes time and effort to implement some of the frameworks that have been published and often, the returns are not immediately apparent to publishers. This is why buyers must insist on standards that are available and proven to help mitigate risk. An unwavering insistence on secured media buying is the only way the industry will come together as a united front.

When all industry bodies (buy side, sell side and tech) align on standards, we will see the scaled adoption the future of this industry is relying on. In the meantime, many tools are available, and we would encourage the buy-side to explore the standards and adopt them as requirements moving forward.

IAB Canada will continue to work towards providing visibility to publishers and platforms that have adopted standards to combat fraud and deliver brand safety.