Programmatic advertising is one of the fastest growing segments of digital marketing. However, not everything is so smooth: the notorious “dark side” of online advertising industry is a digital ad fraud, which is becoming a serious dilemma nowadays.
First of all, it’s worth mentioning that fraud is a concern of all digital advertising, not only programmatic. However, in comparison to direct-sold inventory, programmatic inventory especially the one that is sold in open marketplaces generally sees more ad fraud. This happens because open marketplaces rely heavily on intermediaries, which makes it easier for cybercriminals to get into the transaction chain and RTB ecosystem.
Let’s have a closer look at what digital fraud actually is. In a nutshell, advertising fraud is all kind of illegal activity like creating fake domains, “ghost websites”, cookie stuffing, ad stacking, laundered ad impressions; using malicious bots to generate false impressions, pixel stuffing and so on. Fraudsters obtain billions of media dollars in revenue from these illegal dealings. And in many cases, these “bad actors” get away unnoticed.
Advertisers have been aware of fraud existence, but they started to acknowledge the scale of the problem just recently. Let’s look at the numbers:
*Statistics by Invesp
– Bots and botnets stimulate the activity of a real user by browsing internet or using an app. Bots are evolving and becoming more sophisticated and some of them are so smart, they can move mouse cursor to imitate human behavior, click on links, from one website to another, watch videos, and even add items to the shopping cart! Malicious bots generate false impressions, serve as malware or spam and trigger retargeted ads.
– Ad Stacking and Impression Stacking basically hide ads in a way that there is almost no chance for a human
eye to see it. It could be hiding the ad behind other ads so that only the top one is seen but others in a pile remain unseen.
– Pixel stuffing is very similar. The ad is technically presented on a page but it’s “stuffed” into a single pixel, which makes it impossible to spot for a human eye. Since end users are real people, it makes it more complicated for vendors to detect.
– Domain Spoofing might be even harder to identify. In RBT environment, fraudulent publishers change the URL of their site into the URL of a more trustworthy site – nytimes.com, for instance. You think that your ad ends up on a reputable site, but in reality, it will be on some suspicious website, such as pornographic site or piracy.
– Ad injection is another common type of fraud when cybercriminals insert the ad, but never pay for the advertising slot on that website or even get a permission of site owners.
– Affiliate ad fraud or cookie stuffing is considered “blackhead marketing”. Fraudsters implant the cookie on the user computer mainly through a nasty script or plugin in the browser without the user acknowledging it. The placement of the cookie generates “forced clicks” via pop-unders, within an “iframe” or through corrupted software.
– Click farms is a type of click fraud when a group of low-paid workers click on paid advertising links to create an impression of online popularity. Commonly, click farms are sprouting in developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Venezuela, etc.