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Laying the Foundation to Eliminate Digital Ad Fraud

By Jerelle Gainey, CTO, Drum Agency

Jerelle Gainey, CTO, Drum Agency

I’ll start with a simple premise; it is in the best interest of the entire digital advertising ecosystem to eliminate ad fraud as quickly and effectively as possible.

In a poll conducted by ad measurement firm, Integral Ad Science (IAS), 69.0% of agency executives say that fraud was the biggest hindrance to ad budget growth. With ad fraud cost estimates ranging from $6.5 billion to $19 billion according to eMarketer, the challenge fraud presents to budgets and ROI are obvious. What has not been obvious are the means by which ad fraud is eliminated. In comes the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) with a triple threat of approaches to halt the spread of fraud and maximize the effectiveness of digital ad spend.

The first simple step, which was introduced in September 2017, is publishers’ adoption of ads.txt. Along with the support of the Google advertising ecosystem, ad.txt has experience rapid uptake. What is ad.txt you ask? It is simply a text file place in the root in the publishers website that list who is authorized to sell their inventory, preventing counterfeit inventory by improving transparency for programmatic buyers. It can only be published to a publisher’s domain by the publisher’s webmaster/IT team. It works by creating a publicly accessible record of authorized digital sellers for publisher inventory that programmatic platforms can index and reference when buying the publisher’s inventory.

On the heels on ads.txt, is the latest spec to be released with OpenRTB 3.0, ads.cert works by using a cryptographically signed bid request to offer an authenticated path back to the inventory source. This path allows the DSP (programmatic platform) to verify and validate with the SSP (supply-side platform) that the contents of the bid request are accurate and haven’t been modified.

"Along with the support of the Google advertising ecosystem, ad.txt has experience rapid uptake"

Similar to ads.txt, app-ads.txtis intended to provide the same transparency and protection from counterfeit inventory in the mobile app space. The app-ads.txt file is uploaded to the root of the domain of your website and the URL is made discoverable via the developer website listing in the app store.

Next up is sellers.json. Sellers.json is a file hosted in the sellers root domain that includes all the entities, including the final publisher, involved in the impression opportunity. In other words, it’s the SSP’s version of the ads.txt file. In the file, the SSP or exchange list all their authorized reseller partners along with other attributes which DSPs can validate prior to making the impression purchase. Sellers.json has been released by the IAB Tech Lab OpenRTB Working Group for industry review and the final spec may change before final release. The Working Group is seeking industry feedback during a 30-day public comment period, through May 10, 2019.A sample sellers.json object is below.

Finally, there is the OpenRTB Supply Chain Object. This object allows buyers to see all the parties who are selling or reselling a bid request providing transparency into the entirety of the authorized network of entities involved in an ad impression and allowing them to insure the impressions are purchased as directly as possible (which will eliminate superfluous cost). The object is comprised of the set of entities that participated in the selling of a bid request. The entire chain would include all parties who were paid for an individual bid request. The OpenRTB Supply Chain Object has been released by the IAB Tech Lab OpenRTB Working Group for industry review and the final spec may change before final release. The Working Group is seeking industry feedback during a 30-day public comment period, through May 10, 2019.A sample Supply Chain Object containing 1 reseller is below.

Ads.txt/Apps-ad.txt, enhanced by Ads.cert, sellers. json and the OpenRTB Supply Chain Object create a solid foundation of unparalleled level of transparency and validation in the RTB environment, providing participants in the digital marketing ecosystem. These capabilities introduced by IAB, accompanied by continued advocacy by everyone in the digital advertising space, will provide the digital advertising ecosystem with 1) transparency and trust 2) the data and insight needed to authenticate legitimate sources of inventory3) choice of who you choose to transact with 4) insight necessary for buyers to optimize impression acquisition cost and importantly 5) continue to integrate on the increasingly effective foundation necessary to eliminate digital ad fraud.

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