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Publishers losing up to $3.5m a day due to counterfeit inventory

Tim Maytom

A new study has found massive volumes of counterfeit inventory across global display and video exchanges. The study, which was conducted by a partnership of 16 leading programmatic publishers across 26 domains, found that the record levels of fraud were resulting in lost revenues of up to $1.27bn per year.

With the participation of DSPs including Amobee, Quantcast and Google, the publishers examined the total available inventory across all exchanges for the 26 domains, and found video callouts were overstated by as much as 57 times the available inventory, representing around 700m counterfeit callouts per day. For display advertising, inventory was overstated by four times, with daily counterfeit callouts in the billions.

The publishers involved included Business Insider, The LA Times, Mail Online, The New York Times, Turner, USA Today, The Washington Post and Watson Advertising. In an effort to combat such high levels of fraud, the firms have thrown their support behind the IAB’s Ads.txt initiative, which aims to provide a standard way of authorising inventory.

“The results of this study confirm that Ads.txt needs to be adopted as rapidly as possible to cut off the flow of counterfeit website inventory,” said Dennis Buchheim, senior vice president and general manager at IAB Tech Lab. “It is critical that the industry comes together to put a stop to criminal activity and secure the health of the supply chain.”

Counterfeit impressions are created when a bad seller replaces the URL of a low quality site with a premium publisher URL, or a fraudster creates fake impressions and labels them with a high quality publisher’s URK. This fake inventory is then sold on multiple exchanges and SSPs, without the knowledge of the publishers they are impersonating, to trick advertisers into thinking they are buying premium inventory. The process robs premium publishers of revenues, and tricks advertisers into buying mislabelled and potentially unsafe inventory.

“Everyone in the digital advertising ecosystem must work to improve the health of the digital marketing supply chain – to make it increasingly clean, transparent and efficient – and Ads.txt is unquestionably a major, meaningful step towards this mutual goal of enabling advertisers to more confidently and effectively reach their desired audience on premium publishers in the open market,” said Rich Caccappolo, chief operating officer at Mail Online.

“Amobee is proud to support Google and other industry ecosystem partners in an ongoing effort to ensure authorised inventory and transparency in programmatic advertising," said David Barker, managing director & senior vice president for EMEA at Amobee. "Amobee was one of the first DSPs to implement Ads.txt and we are committed to leading fraud prevention and brand safety. Our involvement in Google's inventory study and early adoption and implementation of Ads.txt across the Amobee platform showcases commitment to leading brand safety and fraud prevention.”