If you run a digital business today, you are also inadvertently in the crime fighting business. Whether you are the former CEO of Target trying to contain a rapidly evolving data breach or the CEO of an advertising company playing whack-a-mole with bot-fraud, you are a crime fighter. It’s not a role most of us anticipated but nonetheless, it is a role we have to be excellent at to serve our customers well.
Criminals and their methods evolve rapidly. As crime fighters, we need to adapt rapidly as well. To do that we need to build cultures and process in our organizations that help fight malicious ad traffic. Here are four points we as digital video ad companies should all be driving home within our organizations:
Detecting Video Ad Fraud
Ironically, the very standards that help digital video ad businesses scale also open the door for fraudsters. This is not the fault of standards and does not mean standards are a bad thing, but we have to recognize that by standardizing an ad technology and protocol, we essentially give fraudsters the blueprint for gaming the system. In the world of Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), a criminal knows what part of the XML to manipulate to their ends. This is why public exchanges that trade in large quantities of VAST inventory are known as some of the most dangerous places to trade in inventory.
The other pernicious result of standardizing the technology to the lowest common denominator is the “nested arbitrage” ludicrousness. It is quite common today for an ad request to be passed through tens of parties and hands before being fulfilled with a response – even on the video front. Each one of those hand-offs helps cover the tracks of fraudsters and allows them to profit from the lack of visibility. We should try and simplify the ad value chain to provide the fewest possible number of exploits.
Enforcement of Ad Fraud Penalties
It has been suggested that buyers adopt a zero tolerance policy toward media companies impacted by bot traffic by blacklisting them forever. Since bot fraudsters direct traffic to many publishers in an effort to make their traffic patterns less obvious and less detectable, legitimate publishers are potentially penalized as well. Adopting the ecommerce analogy, that would mean over the last two years, consumers would have to stop doing business with Target, Neiman Marcus, Apple, Adobe, the California DMV, eBay, Vodaphone, Evernote, New York State Electric and Gas, Citigroup, Twitter and Medicaid.
Clearly this is not a black-and-white issue and requires a more nuanced solution. Of course there should be market consequences for enabling fraud, but creating draconian remedies means less cooperation between buyers and sellers in rooting out fraud and will deteriorate the very market we’re trying to reinforce. Combating fraud is in every serious digital video advertising company’s best interest and to do so buyers and sellers must focus efforts on cooperation rather than conflict. Work with your team of buyers and sellers to open up their strategies to trusted partners who have steps in place to tackle the problem.
The Need for Vigilance
Criminals are crafty and crime fighters must adapt. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Digital video ad companies must build a culture of security, systems and process for rapidly addressing new threats. At YuMe, we have established a Security Council to review the latest threats and implement the most effective internal or third party solutions. You should as well.
The Industry Has to Evolve to Beat Video Advertising Fraud
There simply is no panacea for ad fraud. Anyone who tells you there is, is probably selling one. Trying to apply one solution to the rich and diverse world of digital video advertising (custom units, cross platform, etc.) means sacrificing the benefits of that richness. Our industry thrives on reaching consumers in new and meaningful ways. Unfortunately, that means criminals have new opportunities to victimize us all.
Using another consumer analogy, an armored house is 100% secure, but it’s expensive and the windows are small. There are important trade-offs to consider when building a house. If we were to homogenize our industry to one secure ad unit type or one fraud detection mechanism, we would give fraudsters ONE problem to solve rather than many. A rich ecosystem pressures fraudsters to expend resources on solving many problems, ultimately limiting their effectiveness in evading detection. We have to innovate, and when we do, we have to provide as much security as possible, tailored to the ad innovation.
Ultimately, frauds hurts everyone in the industry and buyers and sellers need to partner to combat it. Yes we’ll spar heartily on inventory pricing and audience guarantees, but if we try to outsmart each other with combative positions on fraud, the only winners will be the criminals.