The war on digital ad fraud is not winnable — Let’s reset the argument

By Maarten Albarda – March 8, 2019
person using laptop computers

Forgive me for harping on again about ad fraud, but it seems the war against this industry-wide issue is unwinnable.

MediaPost’s Laurie Sullivan wrote about the current state of ad fraud this week: “About three-quarters of U.S. fraudulent advertising traffic is ‘sophisticated’ invalid traffic, according to data released Tuesday. 

“Looking at IP and blacklists no longer works, said Guy Tytunovich, CHEQ founder-CEO, and a former Israeli military intelligence officer. Tytunovich called ad fraud the second-largest organized-crime scheme globally, in terms of revenue generated, including narcotics.”

We can argue about the numbers: Perhaps it is less than 50 billion, perhaps even more? It all depends on what is measured as part of “digital advertising.” and what you classify as “fraud.” We can argue that the CEO of CHEQ has an agenda, which is to sell his business.

But let’s put all that aside for now and think about what is really being said here. Advertisers continue to plow enormous amounts of money into digital advertising, and because the space is so complex and profitable, organized crime (let’s call it what it is) is now simply part of it. 

This means all parties have a responsibility to take action against the crime. Advertisers are responsible to fight it because it is their money. Agencies are responsible because it is their fiduciary role to protect and guide the client’s money to those touch points with the highest impact and ROI. And if a large percentage of that money is being siphoned off, that hurts the agency’s credibility and bottom line.

Publishers are responsible because ad fraud literally costs them millions of dollars in revenue.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talked last year about the “data Industrial complex.” At a conference, he noted,“Our own information — from the every day to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”

Cook referred to the vulnerabilities of consumer data — and he’s right because we seem to learn about a new data breach every day.

The issue is that this data industrial complex is in large part funded by, and feeding off, advertising data. And so we now have a data industrial complex that is vulnerable to data breaches and the funding source is vulnerable to fraud and breeches. Can you say “perfect storm”?

Facebook and Apple argue that the road to safety is to “build that wall.” No, seriously, they would argue that their walled gardens are the safe harbor — except of course they’re not. Every wall will be (and has been) breached; every move will trigger a countermove because the bad guys are just making too much money to let it go.

One could argue that we are complicit in this organized crime scheme if we do not act. And the word “we” in that sentence is crucial. “It’s time to face facts,” said Cook. “We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it.”

I think it is time that, as an industry, we shift “the blame game” on ad fraud away from an argument between advertisers and agencies/media companies to an argument between the advertising industry and organized crime. And that we form a meaningful, industry-wide coalition to fight the good fight.

Courtesy of MediaPost –