Commentary

Anti-Piracy Program A Reminder That Ad Quality Concerns Run Deep

The anti-piracy program unveiled Tuesday by the ad industry group known as the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) serves as a reminder that the digital ad industry’s quality concerns run deep.

The group, which was launched by the IAB, ANA and 4As last year, is on a mission to help clean up digital advertising. They are calling the anti-piracy initiative the first part of a larger campaign against click fraud, malware and a general lack of transparency.

We will undoubtedly hear about viewability as well, though the IAB has already spelled out its strategy for viewability in the year ahead. In December, the IAB urged marketers to aim for 70% viewability on campaigns in 2015, naming 2015 a “year of transition.”

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Marketers’ biggest concerns in 2015 are that their ads aren’t being seen (viewability) or that they aren’t been seen and interacted with by humans (bot fraud). And a lack of transparency tosses a shroud over an already cloudy picture.

Then there’s the piracy issues -- different from the more consumer-focused privacy issues -- which were placed center stage on Tuesday by TAG: An ad may be in-view and bot-free, but it may be in a brand-damaging environment that supports unlawful activity.

“Billions of dollars that belong to marketers have been stolen or misdirected for unscrupulous purposes,” stated Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

This is where a lack of transparency plays a key role. “URL masking” -- hiding the actual URL on which an ad is served by layering it through other URLs -- is often used by fraudsters. In one impression laundering scheme uncovered last summer, fraudsters used URL masking techniques to impact over 1% of all digital video ads.

In that particular incident -- which was detected by DoubleVerify, one of the ad tech companies backing TAG’s anti-piracy initiative -- the majority of the fraudulent ads ended up on copyright infringement sites.

TAG’s program is voluntary, but it already has sufficient backing. And while its impact may not be visible for several months, it remains a noteworthy plan, as it is the ad industry’s first concerted effort to stop serving ads to sites containing pirated content on a large scale.

However, as TAG reminded us when it unveiled the program, it’s just step one on the long road ahead.

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