Malvertising Levels Down In 2019; IBVs Petering Out

In 2019, one in every 150 digital ad impressions was dangerous or disruptive to the viewer, according to Confiant’s just-released Demand Quality Report for the fourth quarter and full-year 2019.

While that’s not something to cheer about, it compares favorably with 2018, when one in every 60 impressions was found to be either malicious or an in-banner video ad (IBV) served without the publisher’s (and sometimes the advertiser’s) consent, or of low quality.

The real-time ad-quality verification vendor tracks the quality of programmatic advertising on an ongoing basis. The 2019 report analyzes a normalized sample of more than 355 billion programmatic advertising impressions from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2019.

Malicious ads accounted for 29 billion, or 0.24%, of impressions last year — down from a high of 0.54% in fourth-quarter 2018. (Confiant launched these reports in October 2018.)

IBVs accounted for 27.4 billion -- or 0.23% -- of impressions, versus a high of 1.4% in second-quarter 2018.

Low-quality impressions totaled 27.5 billion, or 0.23% of overall impressions analyzed.

The trends vary somewhat from quarter to quarter, of course. In general, malvertising tends to be highest early in the year, then decline in mid-year, rising again somewhat at year-end. Last year’s activity was consistent with that pattern.

IBVs, while moving up and down somewhat by period, have “fallen precipitously” over the past eight quarters due to industry initiatives such as ads.txt, notes Confiant. “This, combined with moves by the major browsers and SSPs to disable autoplay video ads, has made IBV an endangered species.”

Increased vigilance on the part of the SSPs when it comes to ad quality issues given the highly competitive, and increasingly commoditized, nature of the space.

Malicious ad control has also benefited from industry initiatives like TAG's Certified Against Malware program -- which have increased general awareness around the threat of malware and galvanized efforts to combat it -- and better coordination between publishers and platforms, which narrows the brief window of time that malvertisers have before their exploits are detected and removed, Confiant reports.

However, the battle is obviously never-ending.

Another just-released report — this one from 404 Bot Network — highlights the flaws in ads.txt, and points out that the system is in some respects just making fraudsters up their game when it comes to ad spoofing and other scams.

And Confiant’s report notes that not only did issues across all categories rise significantly from the third quarter to the fourth quarter last year, but that the emergence of a particular fraud scheme called FizzCore — whose activity appears to have peaked in early December — marks “a new line of attack beyond redirects: the use of clickbait to drive users to scam pages.”

Other Confiant findings:

*A few SSPs continue to account for most of the problems. For instance, in Q4 2019, the worst-performing top SSP was 33 times as likely to deliver a malicious ad as the best. More than 60% of malicious impressions came from just three SSPs and more than 50% of serious quality issues came from just two.

*Problems vary by browser. Safari for iOS had the highest rate of malicious ads among top browsers in 2019, by a large margin. The next-highest levels were found with iOS Safari WebView, Android Facebook and Android Chrome. IBVs were most common on Windows Chrome, Windows Edge and Mac OS X Safari. Low-quality issues were also most common on Windows Chrome, followed by Mac OS X Safari and Android Chrome.

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