Opinion

Fight or flee? How the industry must work together to tackle ad fraud

Ad fraud remain a huge issue for the industry, yet too many firms are burying their head in the sand and waiting for someone else to fix the problem, argues DataXu's James Sampson.

When Google first announced they were refunding advertisers for cash spent on fraudulent ads, it felt like a parent admitting they’d done something wrong. After all, together with Facebook, Google dominates the online advertising space.

Fraught with fraud, do we fight or flee?

With ad fraud set to cost us $16.4 billion globally, it’s no wonder there is so much talk about it in the industry. In Asia Pacific, where there continues to be a reliance on traditional click-based metrics, ad fraud becomes an even bigger concern.

The response varies across marketers engaging in digital and programmatic advertising. Many are befuddled, some limit their programmatic spend while others bury their head in the sand hoping for the fraud problem to disappear. While fraud is everyone’s problem, solutions are slow to come.

This is because everyone refrains from addressing the issue, assuming that others would do so. In psychology, we know this as the bystander effect, or better known as the Tragedy of the Commons in economics. As a result, nobody does anything about the problem.

To answer the flight-or-fight question, we’ve taken a stance and chosen to fight.

Just as P&G has made it a point to stop working with agencies, suppliers and ad tech companies that don’t comply with its requirements, we’re doing the same with our fraud free guarantee programme. Launched in 2015, it saved our customers $54m in its first year.

Two years later, the industry remains locked in an arms race with fraudsters.

Until fraud is eradicated, we will charge forward with our guarantee to ensure each of our customers see valid returns on their programmatic investments with not just one or two, but five pre-bid fraud protection filters: Bot Filter, Site Filter, Suspicious Activity Prevention, Malware Scan and Content Blocking.

You might even say we’re a little bit obsessive about ad fraud. But even with so many layers of protection, we know it’s not perfect.

Ad fraud is a growing challenge, and it’s no longer realistic to expect 100% fraud-free digital. This is why we have a 97% fraud free guarantee premium publisher territory, instead of claiming to be 100% fraud-free.

Question everything

Although the move by Google has been labelled tokenistic by some, it restarts the conversation about some of the major issues besieging the industry today.

For one, it breathes new life into the walled gardens debate, especially around ‘grading your own homework’. It has also forced advertisers and publishers to re-look at the anti-fraud technologies and methodologies their providers are using.

Advertisers and agencies should be able to rest assured knowing their programmatic buys would be viewable by human traffic without risk. It should be a hygiene metric supplied by partners as a part of their commitment to providing the highest quality.

Furthermore, they should be entitled to metrics that are approved by MRC-accredited partners to accommodate the individual needs and preferences, not internal metrics set up by the walled gardens.

Many in the industry have much to say about combating ad fraud but are not doing anything concrete about it. The sooner we acknowledge that we all have a part to play, the quicker we will be able to tackle the problem. Google has taken a big step by admitting they aren’t perfect.

However, instead of pointing fingers and labelling Google as the big bad wolf, the real question we should be asking is what is the rest of the industry doing to play their part?

DataXu, for its part, is taking ownership of the solution and verifying inventory sources, even going as far as removing a few ad exchanges where fraud rates have not improved.

Instead of pointing fingers, it’s time to work together to tackle ad fraud in the industry.

James Sampson is DataXu vice president and general manager Asia Pacific

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