Talking About the Big Issues: Ad Fraud

Alex Spencer

Each week in July, we’ll be taking one of the four biggest issues in mobile advertising right now – ad blocking, viewability, ad fraud and brand safety – and examining it close up. To accompany these pieces, we've reached out to some industry experts to give us their perspective on the key issues affecting mobile marketing today.

For an intro to the topic, read our Big Issue feature from earlier this week. But, with no further ado, let's get to the experts.Ad Fraud 2steve chester iabSteve Chester, director of data and industry programmes, IAB UK
What exactly is ad fraud? Depending on who you ask, including detection specialists, you will likely receive a different answer. And therein lies the problem.

Surely one just needs a set of common definitions and detection methods that everyone can agree upon? Yes and no. The pace and speed of development of fraud and its measurement is such that even if you ask the same fraud detection company six months from now they may change their answer, and with good reason.

So where does that leave us, and what can and is being done? The Cross Industry Anti-Fraud Group acting under the auspices of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), recently published a best practice advice document for any company involved in the trading of display advertising to understand and mitigate against the risk of fraud, and I strongly encourage you to read it.

This is the first step of a program to understand, define and put in place measures to combat and significantly reduce the risk of fraud. I say reduce because although the ideal goal is to stamp it out entirely, this is not realistic given the innovation by those committing it.

The next step will be to release definitions of different traffic types which include non-human traffic and fraud. And then to review companies who lead the combat against fraud to understand how they work and function. There is lots of work to do but know that measures are being put in place and that ad fraud is being tackled head-on.

Fiksu Kathy PattisonKathy Pattison, senior vice president of marketing, Fiksu
Like most things in digital marketing, successful viewability isn’t as cut-and-dry as whether or not a consumer viewed an ad. Other factors, such as fraud, also play a part. Fraud can occur in many ways – ghost sites, ad stacking, bot traffic, pixel stuffing, and more – and it’s highly prevalent among desktop advertising.

Yet this type of fraud is rare on mobile for two key reasons. First, it's simply not cost-effective to commit ad fraud on mobile: it's complex and time-consuming, particularly in-app, where mobile IDs are used for tracking. Creating huge numbers of fake mobile IDs, or using hundreds of phones and constantly resetting their IDs, wouldn't be worth the few fractions of a penny per fraudulent ad.

Second, most mobile advertising is performance-based and built around optimizing to the best preforming sources, so any fraudulent (and therefore poorly performing) traffic sources would quickly be removed from a mobile campaign.

Stephen Jenkins, VP global marketing & communications, Millennial Media
As has been the case in this series of articles, ad fraud is often grouped together with brand safety and viewability. However, I think it’s important to make it absolutely clear how distinct this topic is. Fraud is an intentional unlawful act and it is the responsibility of everyone within the ecosystem to crack down on this as rigorously as possible.

Fraud always follows the money and unfortunately if you are predisposed to engage in intentional deception, then doing so through things like computers and bots might be an attractive option. It is more difficult to be caught, and relative to other acts, the consequences of getting caught may generally be less severe.

This should not, however, diminish our resolve. It is paramount that the industry works together to deliver fraud-free traffic, to ensure brands’ trust in the channel remains and the investment in mobile continues to grow.

Alex Hewson MC SaatchiAlex Hewson, media director EMEA, M&C Saatchi Mobile
We all know that fraudsters follow money, so it's no surprise that with the rise of mobile ad spend, fraudulent activities do occur on mobile. This is much as we saw, and still do see, with desktop media.

There are numerous technology solutions in the market to combat the risk of fraudulent clicks or appearing of non-safe content within the desktop world, but consistent solutions for mobile are still evolving given the fragmented nature of the ecosystem: numerous platforms, in-app versus mobile web environments and unique campaign goals.

App install campaigns are a good example of an objective unique to mobile and an area where marketers have to be diligent. Many networks partners are moving to a straight Cost Per Install model, with the ultimate goal to acquire high quality users. In these instances the quality of the inventory is imperative, and incentivised media – where a user installs the client app in exchange for virtual currency typically in gaming apps – needs to be avoided. The cost on incentivised media is significantly cheaper when acquiring installs, however the quality of the user is generally a lot lower. We even see more unscrupulous suppliers mix the two supply sources and pass media off as non-incentivised when in fact it is, although this is infrequent.

The first step to minimise this risk is to always ensure strict trading terms and conditions are in place with all partners. However highlighting suspicious installs is down to careful data analysis via a mobile measurement partner. Click to install rates may be abnormally high or post install usage of the app too low, for example – while not 100 per cent conclusive, both are strong indicators of potentially fraudulent activity.