Let’s stamp out fraud in programmatic advertising!

Programmatic marketing has been a boon to our industry. It allows brands to pinpoint the exact demographics they need to reach, as well as when and how often their ads will be seen and on which publishers. Advertisers today have more control than ever before in terms of achieving effective outcomes. But sadly there are many cases in which advertisers believing they’re getting placement on premium publishers are being duped.

There are several ways it can happen.

If supply-side platforms (SSPs) have mismatching domain and webpage information for a publisher, a brand can be unwittingly paired with content with which it would not want to be associated. We have heard plenty about fake news lately, and nobody wants to be connected to that.

Programmatic buyers also can be fooled by ad networks presenting an SSP’s site list as its own. This unauthorized reselling is known as “arbitrage.” An impression might be sold among multiple ad networks before reaching the advertiser. A dodgy network in the chain could be misleading about its inventory and that’s when domain spoofing—paying for one site but getting another—can happen. Premium publishers are the most victimized because of their inventory’s desirability.

The Financial Times recently uncovered 300 accounts fraudulently claiming to sell FT.com inventory, pegging the value of this bogus inventory at US$1.3 million per month. It has demanded offending ad exchanges remove this inventory and has implored clients and agencies to be vigil about dealing only with its official exchange partners.

The IAB Tech Lab has come up with a solution to combat arbitrage and domain spoofing. The project is called ads.txt—an acronym for Authorized Digital Sellers. Publishers post a list of authorized sellers to their domain, which buyers access via the publisher’s URL with the “/ads.txt” add-on. Buyers can compare the list against data in OpenRTB bid requests and are then able to separate authorized ad exchanges from would-be fraudsters.

Cue Digital Media wholeheartedly supports the IAB Tech Lab’s initiative and has asked all our publisher partners to implement the system. But our industry still has a long way to go. According to a recent study by MarTech Today, less than 7% of the most-trafficked sites in the U.S. have adopted ads.txt.

And yet with education it will become clear the outcome will be a win for all. Together we will stamp out the fraud that can make advertisers skeptical, instead allowing them to get the maximum benefit of programmatic marketing and their campaign budgets while helping publishers to continue producing premium content.

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