IAB talks fraud, accountability and chicken nuggets

The organization's Let's Talk Fraud event brought out discussions of who's responsible for turning a blind eye to fraud and why long supply chains should raise red flags.
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When it comes to digital ads, invalid traffic across campaigns can span a very wide range – anywhere from 0.2% to 73.9%.

That’s according to comScore’s data from 2015, presented at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Canada’s Let’s Talk Fraud event in Toronto on Nov. 15. ComScore’s senior director of sales Darrick Li presented the crowd, which consisted of publishers, agencies and advertisers themselves, at a day dedicated to discussing the state of the digital advertising industry as digital fraud rises.

According to Li, invalid traffic can range from more general techniques such as bots and spiders, to sophisticated tactics, including hijacked devices, ad tags, adware, malware and more.

Overall, comScore’s stats found that 50% of digital ad views in Canada come from real viewers, although it was the highest among countries observed (including the U.S., U.K. and France, which ranged from 45 to 49% visibility).

While Li said fraud on mobile was “rather small” compared to desktop, Jon Levinson, senior director of partner development with TubeMogul, debated this assertion during the talk, saying that the definition of fraud shouldn’t be limited to non-human traffic, but any instance where an advertiser’s ad isn’t fully viewable.

He elaborated on his remarks to MiC following the presentation. “We look at fraud as the advertiser being intentionally deprived of value,” said Levinson, pointing to an example screenshot of a video advertisement that had been placed into a banner ad spot with no audio and where most of the creative wasn’t visible.

“The advertiser can never get a full impression with an ad like that, but they’re paying full cost,” he said. “Viewability is a function of user behaviour. In an instance like this, if there was never a chance for an ad to be viewable at any given time, we consider that fraud.”

He said TubeMogul has observed fraudulent activity mostly in open exchanges, and saw it in anywhere from 30% to 90% of those exchanges’ mobile and in-app inventory.

The solution, said Levinson, is to only buy inventory that can’t be touched by a middle-man. “If you only buy vendors that get the inventory from their own SDK [development kit], there’s no opportunity for the middle-man to get between them and us.”

The matter of middle-men and increasingly deep advertising networks reappeared on stage in a publisher’s panel featuring execs from the CBC, Google and Index Exchange.

Drew Bradstock, SVP of product and Index Exchange, said that not all networks are bad, but he compared the sometimes long and increasingly convoluted supply chain to — of all things — chicken nuggets.

“You wouldn’t buy your food from someone’s who’s exchanged the chicken five levels down, but then you do it in ad sales and you’re surprised that there’s fraud?” he said onstage.

He later told MiC that the industry needs to take more accountability and said many publishers and agencies turn a blind eye to the issue (although he emphasized that the problem lies not with companies as a whole but “certain account managers”). “They’re looking the other way because the KPI is cheaper,” he said. “Agencies need to understand where they’re buying something. To use the CBC as an example, are they buying through the CBC at a set rate, or is it through an exchange, or is it through an ad network you’ve never heard of that’s selling CBC for 25 cents? One level down, the agencies need to do a heck of a lot more to understand where these exchanges are occurring.”

Mike Zaneis, president and CEO of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), closed out the event and echoed Bradstock’s call for more companies to come clean and start addressing low-quality traffic and fraud head-on.

“Whether you’re a publisher or an advertising network, a lot of them are turning a blind eye,” he told MiC. “When the industry is growing by 20-plus percent, that can mask a lot of problems, but we’ve turned the corner of being able to turn that blind eye.”

He said companies that do the right thing and re-shape or even eliminate aspects of their ad networks that attract fraudulent and low-quality traffic will not be hurt in the marketplace, citing the example of ad software management company AppNexus.

“They obliterated about 90% of their inventory because the traffic was low-quality,” he said. “Their revenue hasn’t dropped a cent.”

The Let’s Talk Fraud event was part of IAB Canada’s ongoing Business of Digital event series.

 

 

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