Is Ad Fraud Inevitable?

On a news day dominated by reanimating dead pig brains and the release of the redacted Mueller report, there were a surprising number of stories about fraud in digital media and what can be done about it.  It's a theme that seems to spark endless discussion with little more than recommendations for potential resolution, shifting blame up and down the tech stack and suggesting best practices to minimize fraud.

Part of this is due to the lack of transparency from ad tech almost from the beginning. There was an awful lot of selling the dream versus what could actually be delivered.

I can’t even count the number of ad-tech companies that were clients of mine (briefly) who wanted to promote features and results that they could never deliver. Often, I was left to dissemble the tech and find less and less as I peeled back the onion leaves.

Is that part of the fraud problem? Otherwise honorable people promising results they can’t possibly deliver?  Or perhaps putting tech into the stack that is far more vulnerable to outside fraud than they admit? Or simply not having the wherewithal to identify ways their tech could be attacked by the bad guys?



Is there any real difference then between fraud related to well-meaning vendors versus fraud perpetrated by bot generators based somewhere in Eastern Europe?  The end result is essentially the same: You did not get what you paid for -- or worse, you paid for impressions you didn’t really get.

Because relative to other media, much of digital advertising is cheap and easy to execute, some agencies and brands simply write off fraud as the cost of doing business online. That is, until someone comes along and says, you know, you're wasting 60 cents of every dollar, or calculating that every ad dollar lost to fraud costs you $xx in sales.

The response seems to be a flight to the relative safety of Facebook and Google, which have their own fraud problems that they seem to take their own sweet time correcting. These platforms are also on the very front lines of some privacy issues that could profoundly change the way brands use digital to reach new customers. I am sure Amazon will not remain unscathed.

Other media are quick to point out that they're free of the kind of ad fraud prevalent online. But they are in the process of shifting their buying and selling technology and growing their use of personal data to enhance targeting that will make them far more like digital in short order. Are they opening the door to digital-like fraud?

I suspect those who seek to digitize, say, the linear TV buying and selling process have learned a great deal about fraud and have built in protective measures. But it is clear than once a process or institution joins the internet, it is subject to withering attacks from foreign governments, hackers and fraudsters. Christ, even the NSA has been hacked.

It remains to be seen if digital advertising can heal itself and develop enough prophylactic measures and tech to restore confidence -- and if other media have learned enough to keep it from happening to them.

2 comments about "Is Ad Fraud Inevitable?".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 19, 2019 at 12:51 p.m.

    The solution seems all too obvious. Always deal direct with reputable websites rather than letting computers make your media buys.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, April 19, 2019 at 10:15 p.m.

    I have a several thoughts about ad fraud, but I will keep this focused on how it effects the publishers. In online ads the normal business chain starts with the advertiser then goes to the ad distributors then to the publishers. However, when ad fraud is thrown in and millions of dollars are stolen, the ad distributors who should pay for the loses, whether with real dollars or insurance doesn’t. The ad distributors simply pass the loses to back to advertisers and the publishers. For the publishers they are reduced in compensation not just a few dollars monthly but in many cases, in the thousands of dollars. This is causing the publishers to run junk ads of all kinds to try to make up the loses. There are ways to correct this chain of ad fraud however it will not be done because the solution is too simple. Human involvement.   

Next story loading loading..