Commentary

Assessing Buy Side's Role In App-Ads.txt, Sellers.json Adoption

What can be done to stem the rising tide of fraud within the mobile app advertising ecosystem?

This year, IAB Tech Lab released three new technical specifications designed to increase transparency in the ecosystem as part of a larger effort to stamp out fraudulent actors and actions. App-ads.txt in its initial iteration is now live, while sellers.json and the OpenRTB SupplyChain object are out for public review and set to be released in a couple of months..

Implementation of all three standards happens on the supply side of the advertising ecosystem.

App publishers and developers are responsible for developing and implementing app-ads.txt files, while sellers.json and the OpenRTB SupplyChain object fall under the purview of supply-side platforms (SSPs). The buy side (brand advertisers, agencies, etc.) plays a critical role in encouraging industry adoption and can take key steps to get the sell side to adopt all of these standards.

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Why App-Ads.txt, SupplyChain object and Sellers.json Adoption Matters

First, let’s discuss why these new specifications are key in the ecosystem.

Rising levels of fraud hurts everyone. It erodes trust in the entire ecosystem, robbing quality publishers of budgets that should be reaching them and stealing funds from advertisers, which is enriching criminals instead of reaching real people. All three standards make it more difficult to perpetuate fraud by increasing transparency and providing a verifiable paper trail for programmatic transactions.

App-ads.txt helps resolve issues around fraud by making spoofing much more difficult to perpetrate. Without app-ads.txt in place, nefarious players can easily masquerade as legitimate apps and take ad budgets earmarked for honest publishers. App-ads.txt serves as a verifiable list highlighting specifically who is allowed to work with that app and in what capacity.

The OpenRTB SupplyChain object highlights who specifically was involved in each and every programmatic transaction. Sellers.json is then used to translate the codified identifiers in the SupplyChain object into layman’s terms.

Buy Side Steps To Encourage Adoption

Despite the benefits these standards bring, initial adoption of the one spec that’s fully live so far (app-ads.txt) remains low, per PubMatic. It’s too early to tell what initial adoption for the other IAB Tech Lab standards will be, as they are not officially live yet.

What can the buy side do to encourage adoption of app-ads.txt now and sellers.json and the OpenRTB SupplyChain object in the future once they are live? Taking these three steps is key:

  1. Only buy inventory from supply that’s adopted the standards. The buy side can speak with its wallet. Publishers and SSPs will be quick to adopt the standards if failure to implement them means losing money. For example, Centro has said that it will be implementing a tool by Q2 of this year to limit bids to only those sellers and resellers listed on a property’s app-ads.txt file, and The Trade Desk has taken a similar stance.

  2. Crawl files frequently. During the recent IAB Tech Lab’s Supply Chain Open Forum, sell-side representatives noted  some publishers were worried about having an error on their files and then missing out on revenue for weeks as a result. When the buy side crawls files on a regular basis (once a day or once every other day) and communicates potential file errors to SSPs and publishers, these kinds of concerns can be assuaged.

  3. Whitelist exchanges based on their anti-IVT partners/tech utilized. It’s everyone’s responsibility to highlight and stamp out fraud — not just pointing fingers. These new standards do not mean the buy side is off the hook and only the sell side needs to worry about removing fraudulent actors from the ad supply chain. When the buy side takes an active anti-fraud stance, the sell side doesn’t feel the brunt of fraud-fighting efforts entirely falls on them. Everyone must act together.

By taking these steps, brand advertisers, agencies and demand-side platforms can help boost adoption of these standards and improve the programmatic ecosystem for everyone.

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