Calls to secure the digital advertising supply chain have contributed in part to a growing trend of advertising technology companies making big moves to fight ad fraud and provide more transparency. The trend will continue in 2019, further shifting the onus of catching ad fraud and securing campaigns away from advertisers. From the supply- to the demand-side of the chain, here’s a full-stack look at how the industry is fighting ad fraud and working to provide advertisers with a better programmatic experience.
From the Supply Side
Fighting ad fraud and eliminating low-quality inventory is uniquely challenging from the supply side of the market: Ad tech providers have massive amounts of traffic to monitor and numerous publishing partners that can introduce fraud into the system. However challenging though, the companies on this side of the ecosystem can make the biggest difference in terms of improving quality within the programmatic markets, as they’re closest to the sources of fraud. To see how a supply-side player is addressing ad fraud and quality challenges, we turn to Smart, a holistic ad monetization platform.
Smart was originally founded within a premium publisher, so quality awareness is part of the company’s DNA, and inventory quality is a top priority. The holistic ad monetization platform has taken several steps to assure the best impressions for its buyers. Smart is proactive in addressing the challenges associated with fraud and has created a strict, no-fraud strategy by using pre-auction and post-auction mechanisms to continuously monitor the publishers and traffic on its exchange (Smart RTB+).
The company’s commitment to quality is built around four key pillars: (1) having a dedicated department to spearhead quality efforts, led by a Chief Quality Officer, (2) having strong processes and strict policies around quality for all partners and customers, (3) implementing proprietary internal and leading external brand safety technology tools, and (4) having permanent, dedicated R&D and market-level initiatives to improve the ecosystem.
Smart was the first industry player to set up an internal quality team led by a Chief Quality Officer, Gorka Zarauz, whose role involves ensuring quality inventory, transparency around all transactions, and eliminating fraudulent content. Zarauz explains that to ensure the highest level of quality, Smart puts new RTB+ inventory through a strict scanning process that includes proof of a direct relationship with publishers. Every participating publisher must comply with the Smart RTB+ Quality policy. Before activating any inventory in the marketplace, Smart proactively provides the new inventory information to buyers for approval. This enables fluent communication and knowledge-sharing of any suspicious activities, which helps improve the entire ecosystem.
Smart has over 1,000 publishing partners and 150 billion monthly impressions passing through its platform. The sheer volume of fraud in the marketplace presents a challenge to Smart and similar companies.
“Fraudsters are always one step ahead as they try to ‘get the money and run’ and unfortunately, it’s very simple to commit fraud. The challenge is in identifying the best partners (both on the supply- and the demand-side) to work within a vast global ecosystem rife with fraudulent activity,” said Zarauz. “We address this by being selective about our DSP partners. Each partner has to commit to Smart’s policy. We’re 100% committed to work with Premium Publishers and Premium Sales Houses.”
On December 20th last year, Smart went a step further on its quality initiatives by blocking all bid requests that fail to meet the ads.txt standard. This policy not only ensures Smart RTB+ inventory is 100% ads.txt compliant, but also safeguards domain authenticity for Smart’s publishers and demand partners. The move guarantees publishers can safely benefit from programmatic channels, without fear of inventory misuse; arbitrage is avoided so that publishers are fairly compensated for the sale of their inventory.
“While this policy impacts Smart’s business in the short term, we remain convinced that all industry players stand to gain from a fraud-free environment.” commented Zarauz. “We will bear these costs as part of our ongoing proactive efforts to clean up the ecosystem and help ensure the highest quality standard on our platform.”
From the Demand Side
From the demand side of the RTB spectrum, DSPs are faced with many challenges as well, including large amounts of traffic to filter and advertisers with different quality expectations. We turn to AcuityAds, an advertising technology provider with a proprietary demand-side platform solution, for an overview of how it handles fraud and is able to “trade in trust” within the programmatic market.
Acuity’s DSP offering approaches the issue of fraud from three angles. First, it has taken steps to build fraud prevention features right into its technology. Second, it encourages advertisers to work with third-party verification providers and finally, it works together with platform users to supply best practices for avoiding fraudulent traffic.
Within the technology, fraud measures are taken at every step of a campaign, including pre-campaign, in-flight, and post-campaign. Things like the ability to implement white/black lists for campaign targeting and content scoring tools are available to users. In addition, the Fraudlogix technology has been built directly into the Acuity Platform, and works to manually observe and identify unusual patterns in traffic. To go a step beyond, the company’s developers have automated the identification of some commonly occurring suspicious patterns that they’ve found over the years delivering digital campaigns.
“An ongoing challenge that our platform faces, and as do others, is constantly changing inventory,” said Dr. Nathan Mekuz, Co-Founder and CTO, of AcuityAds. “To the best of our ability we work to ensure that we have fraud measures in place that are always at work reviewing all inventory that passes through our system so that our advertisers are protected.”
From a Verification Company
Ad verification companies often partner with advertisers and agencies to protect their programmatic spending and help optimize campaigns. The insight helps ensure advertisers get what they pay for. Vigilance on this this side of the spectrum is expected since campaign budgets are directly affected by fraud. Further up the chain though, there’s still no shortage of companies working to prevent fraud, but the tactics and solutions look a bit different.
Fraudlogix is a verification company that works with ad tech companies to help them secure the programmatic space. The company specializes in fraud prevention for the supply side and DSPs, devising solutions for the monitoring of all inventory – not just sampling – for ad fraud, viewability, domain spoofing, and brand safety.
Fraudlogix uses pixel-based technology and machine learning to collect data from billions of monthly impressions and then delivers that data to clients so they can quickly see how publishers, sellers, domains, and campaigns are performing and exactly where suspicious traffic is coming from. Insight tools allow clients to present evidence to sellers if there are discrepancies and a real-time block list allows for pre-bid fraud prevention. Additionally, Fraudlogix recently launched ads.txt reporting within its dashboard for its clients, allowing them to track file matches and publisher implementation.
“We like to think of ourselves as an extension of our clients’ quality teams,” said Hagai Shechter, CEO of Fraudlogix. “The solutions that we develop are based on the very specific needs and requests of our supply-side clients and DSPs. These companies are trying to do the right thing – they know that they have to be proactive in preventing fraud on their platforms -- and we’re happy to provide the tools for them to do it.”
Action in 2018
In 2017 there was a call to do more to clean up the programmatic space. The industry saw key initiatives launched, like ads.txt, to do just that. In 2018 increased vigilance, solid anti-fraud policies like the ones mentioned here, and proactive companies within the chain will bring more action to the battle against fraud, helping to make for a more secure, transparent supply chain.