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IAB’s Ads.txt Aims to Root Out Fraudulent Inventory

Tim Maytom

programmatic advertising code
The IAB’s Tech Lab has released a proposed new standard called ‘ads.txt’ that would enable publishers to declare which businesses are authorised to sell their digital inventory, and an open-source web crawler designed to help companies adopt this new standard. Together, the two pieces of software should help demand-side platforms to verify that their inventory comes from authorised sellers.

If the standard is widely adopted, it could help identify fraudsters within the programmatic ecosystem and even expose a number of large players who claim to be authorised to sell inventory from large, big-name publishers but instead provide advertisers with low quality sites and apps, or worse, falsified traffic.

“While every impression already includes publisher information from the OpenRTB protocol, via the page URL and Publisher.ID, there is no standard to allow the buyer’s systems to cross-reference those IDs and confirm authenticity or the validity of the bid request,” said Neal Richter, consulting data scientist at Hebbian Labs and OpenRTB co-chair of the IAB Tech Lab. “This leaves the ecosystem open for bad actors to inject and blend counterfeit inventory in with legitimate traffic.”

Ads.txt is still in public review until 19 June, and in fact the web crawler was built as a result of feedback from ad tech companies and other industry figures. Following the public review, the IAB OpenRTB Working Group will evaluate any feedback, make any necessary revisions and release a final version.

“Ads.txt is a significant milestone in alleviating one of the most critical challenges for publishers in the digital marketplace,” said Tim Mahlman, president of AOL Platforms. “It will clear out the wheat from chaff, and increase confidence in programmatic buying and selling for all stakeholders involved. The entire industry will benefit from this increased transparency and trust.”