Mobile Apps -- The New Frontier On Fraud?

Criminals are, by definition, a shifty bunch. Put street lighting in one dark alley and they just move along to the next unlit opportunity to ply their sordid trade in the dark. It's what we see in real life, but is this now what we're seeing in digital marketing.

More to the point -- is that what we are seeing mobile app marketing? That's the conclusion I'm certainly leaning toward after a few social media exchanges and a bit of additional digging after writing about Integral Ad Science's latest report on the state of digital marketing for the first half of 2018. The takeaway was that fraud, particularly for optimised campaigns, was almost negligible at less than one percent for desktop and mobile web.

Viewability was also up to around the two-in-three mark -- with the dishonourable exception being mobile apps, which were down to less than half. The reason given for this was that ads are often served up but not always consumed if a gamer doesn't get to the end of a level or presses the off button midway through a game that is not going well.

However, there was no measurement for mobile app fraud included in the report. IAS can measure in-app fraud but it needs more publishers to roll out an Open Measurement SDK developer kit so fraud can be consistently monitored at a scale that gives meaningful figures. This, of course, has to come from the publisher side. It's a perfectly reasonable explanation and one can only hope that, rather like the ads.txt initiative, momentum will grow until it seems odd not to have adopted it. 

Without fraud figures for mobile app from IAS, I checked out some other resources. AppsFlyer put mobile app fraud at 11% of all downloads in the first quarter this year. The represents a 30% lift over the same period the year before, and it estimates that this cost marketers around $700m to $800. Add that up across a year, and if the situation does not improve, we're looking at $3bn worth of fraud.

The main issues appear to be around criminals claiming commissions for apps they have downloaded, through a site they own, that will never be used by a human being. There is also "click flooding," where bots fire off multiple clicks in the hope of fooling an app marketer that they were responsible for an app downloaded by another person. 

The advice imparted by the experts is for mobile marketers to watch out for sites that claim a lot of installs but whose installs never turn into engagement. 

Other than that, it seems the relatively new digital marketing channel of mobile apps is the new frontier on fraud, and it's desperately seeking the ad-tech equivalent of a Wyatt Earp. 

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