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Stopping online advertising fraud once and for all

June 16, 2016

In late 2014 the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) created the New York-based Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) for the purpose of “eliminating fraudulent digital advertising traffic, combating malware, fighting ad-supported Internet piracy to promote brand integrity, and promoting brand safety through greater transparency”. TAG is now addressing the issue of advertising fraud, which is likely to surpass US$7 billion this year and gives a lot of headaches to the advertising industry members.

The “Certified against Fraud” program intends to combat the negative impact of fraudulent traffic (bot-generated, non-human traffic, pushed and used by cyber-criminals in view of malicious purposes). Instead of generating revenue for these illegitimate networks that substitute bot views for human presence, the advertisers plan to take back their own play field via this strategic program.

A series of Certified against Fraud Guidelines were issued and the companies that abide by these rules will receive the “Certified Against Fraud” Seal to display publicly, thus marking their active presence onto the virtual battlefield against fraud.

There are four anti-fraud TAG-registered tools that companies (benefiting from a assigned TAG compliance officer and complying with the Media Rating Council’s Invalid Traffic (IVT) Detection and Filtration Guidelines) should employ, if willing to enter this new program:

  • The Payment ID Protocol (concerning e-payments and their safety);
  • The Data Center IP List (a database of malicious data centers that shelter no-human advertising traffic);
  • The Domain Fraud Threat List (comprising all known originating domains for illicit advertising activities);
  • The Publisher Sourcing Disclosure Requirements (PSDR) – a tool serving in showing the amount of sourced traffic for a given publisher.

Participants in the CAF Program

This fraud-fighting certification program was announced in October 2015. Since then over 30 ad tech and agency partners have joined, including Amobee, AppNexus, Collective, comScore, DoubleVerify, Dstillery, engage:BDR, Exponential, Forensiq, Horizon Media, Index Exchange, Integral Ad Science, Interpublic Group, MediaMath, Moat, ndp, News Corp, Omnicom Group, OpenX, Publicis Worldwide, RhythmOne, Rocket Fuel, Rubicon Project, Sociomantic, sovrn, SpotX, TubeMogul, White Ops, WPP, Yahoo and Zemanta.

Interestingly, so far neither Facebook nor Google is among the participant companies, although their influential role in digital advertising puts them in the center of this issue.

How does TAG Registration work?

When applying for TAG Registration, companies have to fill in an online registration form, manifesting their will to enter this voluntary “Who’s Who of trusted partners”. Once the company’s representative completes the TAG Registration Form, a proprietary background check and review process takes place, followed by approval if all elements verify. A “TAG Registered” seal with a unique identifier is further ensued to the new member and from there on that company is able to identify their ads to partners across the digital supply chain, to match their unique TAG identifiers with a Payment ID system and to use this stage as a gateway for other TAG certification programs.

The potential members have to undergo slightly different admission stages depending on their status: direct buyers (advertisers, authorized agents and equivalent entities), direct sellers (publishers, authorized publisher agents and their equivalents) and intermediaries (ad networks or indirect buyers and sellers) are all separated by an extra qualification element – intermediaries having the most complex registration process ahead.

One TAG compliance seal brings in about $20,000 per year/company – so this system may be pictured as an enhanced-security, official and quite expensive club in which members mutually help each other in avoiding the equally-expensive, if not more unpleasant and more costly fraud damage. It probably depends on the big picture to perceive this membership as an option one might pass or postpone, or as an immediate must: the size of your company, the type of activities and advertising industry status, the amount of revenue generated by each activity, the incumbent losses coming from advertising fraud, the risks and the need for such compliance when it comes to partnerships are all elements one should weigh before taking a decision.

For example, an already participant member in the Certified against Fraud Program, Open X, describes its membership benefits as generating a “higher demand and consistently higher revenue”. Another CAF member, Sociomantic, speaks via its Head of Solutions of the need of industry consolidation, which would provide a way of stopping intruders from abusing the digital advertising system.

Business Insider acknowledges the CAF Program in an article that also links to a BI Intelligence report on ad fraud; the article has a few key takeaways on botnet fraud, their modus operandi and effects on legit advertising – for example it is worth noting that bot operators usually target the more expensive ads from impression-based campaigns since their hits bring the most revenue this way, as well as remembering that it depends on the joint collaboration of the advertising sellers and buyers to vanquish the online advertising fraud.

As we mentioned in the title, the advertising industry members seem firmly set to stop online fraud once and for all, or at least to make its botnet troops retreat. However, it depends on the coordinated efforts of the advertising entities to see this defensive process through.