Google’s refunds greeted with cautious optimism in fraud fight

A new refund policy and a push for ads.txt have been well-received in Canada, but some questions remain unanswered.

In its fight to to weed out digital ad fraud, Google is undertaking a refund program for advertisers who fall victim to invalid traffic on its Doubleclick Bid Manager (DBM). Industry watchers say its a positive step, but are still seeking broader action.

Refunds will come from supply partners and be issued to advertisers for invalid traffic detected up to 30 days after their monthly billing.

Google will not publicly comment on its fraud detection methods or disclose to refund recipients the nature of the fraud it detects. A Google spokesperson told MiC it this is to ensure “that our tools and defenses against [fraud] remain effective. We do know that criminals change their approaches based on the changes we make and the information we disclose publicly.”

However, Drew Bradstock, SVP of product at Index Exchange, said the refunds are positive for the industry from a point of principle.

“For advertisers and publishers, most are using the big trading companies,” said Bradstock. “Realistically, most of them are using DBM or TradeDesk.” He said because of how prolific Google is in the advertising industry (taking in $79 billion in global ad revenue in 2016, according to research from Zenith), it will likely cause a ripple effect throughout the industry.

Chris Williams, VP of digital with the Association of Canadian Advertisers, said that the initiative is one that the ACA would love to see more DSPs take part in. However, he told MiC the refund policy may lead to more questions.

Williams said DBM is not  accredited with the Media Rating Council for sophisticated invalid traffic, which leads to concerns over “who decides what is invalid or not and if the same party has a financial interest in the decision.”

One battle in the war
The refunds are the latest step Google has taken against ad fraud in 2017. Earlier this year, it began testing ads.txt, an initiative launched by IAB Tech Lab, on its ad network. Ads.txt is a file publishers can add to a web property that anyone can access to see which exchanges are permitted to sell that publisher’s inventory.

Google publicly threw its support behind the initiative earlier this summer. Then last week, Google announced a plan to only buy a publisher’s inventory from sources identified as authorized sellers in its ads.txt file when in cases where they’re available. The change will come into effect by the end of October.

Since it was first rolled out in early July, ads.txt has been adopted by nearly 5,000 publishers. Participating Canadian sites include Kijiji, Sportsnet and Pelmorex Media.

“We believe the ads.txt standard is a significant step forward in the fight against ad fraud,” Google’s blog post on the matter stated. “The success of ads.txt will be defined by the extent of its adoption, and it’s great to see healthy adoption by publishers since the standard was finalized.”

Williams said Google’s new decision drives home the importance of ads.txt. “We need the market to move quickly on implementing ads.txt,” he said, encouraging advertisers to seek out sites that have the files and push their agency partners to do the same.

But despite these positive steps, Williams  said, publishers who unwittingly become victims of fraudulent exchanges would still benefit from more options. “It would be nice if Canadian publishers had a way to deal with exchanges that are caught selling media where either the domain has been spoofed or they are not authorized re-sellers.”

Bradstock echoed Williams’ desire for broader industry action. “There is a chance here for agents to stand up and say, ‘I do want to buy from legitimate inventory.’ The alternative is a cheap blended rate that likely isn’t real. Advertisers should be very demanding from their agency partners.”

Ad fraud has undoubtedly been top-of-mind for marketers in recent years (a survey by the World Federation of Advertisers found that ad fraud and transparency were among members’ biggest concerns). However, the Association of National Advertisers and analytics firm White Ops found in a recent study that bots and ad fraud will contribute to a projected loss of $6.5 billion globally — a drop from last year. The study also reported that with digital ad expenditures expected to increase by 10% in 2017, the drop in ad fraud/bot losses is an even bigger feat.

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