I've been pretty vocal about how more needs to be done, and that we probably won't see the end of this until jail doors start slamming and the perpetrators are shut down. But I've always looked at publishers as being partly the victims of this vile ripoff trade. This week, however, a former publisher who knowingly bought bad traffic to rip off advertisers talked about how he would spend thousands of dollars a day on traffic so that he could earn a markup of between 25% to 100% depending on the rates advertisers bid to be on his pages, via ad networks.
It's a pretty uncomfortable read, but it suggests that every part of the supply chain -- other than the advertiser itself -- is either involved in or turning a blind eye to ad fraud, because they all gain from it. Not all are, of course -- that should be made very clear. But clearly, sufficient numbers of publishers, ad networks and agencies are not asking the tough questions that mean the fraud can carry on. The accusation is that for the unscrupulous, there is just too much money involved in rogue publishers buying bad traffic (likely to be computer generated), ad networks selling the ad space to that bad traffic on bad sites and some agencies feeling they can do little to intervene -- if Google can't police the Web, how can they?
Progress is clearly being made with viewability. In fact, in the UK, JICWEBS, the body formed by the IAB and AOP (digital advertisers joining up with digital publishers) has today updated its guidelines on viewability and is setting about re-certifying those who have signed up to its code. The expectation is this process will be completed by the end of the year and, as such, advertisers can be assured digital advertising companies who are signatories are doing what they can to enforce the IAB standard of half an ad's pixels being viewable for a second.
The standard is really there, then, for honest companies to display their credentials. It needs to be applauded, but it can do little about those who actively seek out bad traffic which is served to bad sites via networks which ask no searching questions.
This week's confession from a former rogue publisher, then, does ask the question whether people, such as myself (and I freely hold my hands up to this), have thought fraud was totally due to a few criminals lurking among the huge amount of ad requests flowing in and out of ad exchanges servers every second of the day. The supposition is that some publishers are much more involved in the process than the mainstream media might like to think. Far from being the unwitting victims, as most of us have probably always thought -- some publishers are active instigators.
So it's a fairly depressing scenario in which, potentially (and certainly not usually) a digital advertiser finds that all parts of the supply chain could be infected. In fact, that could be the ultimate depressing fact. Do brand side marketers keep the issue quiet because they don't want the rest of the business knowing that they have no idea how much of their ad budget actually goes on media that people see?
Is nobody lifting a lid on the issue with any real intent of quashing it because all bar one side of the equation gains from it and the one side that doesn't, the advertiser, doesn't want to admit to their board what a ride they've been taken on?