Ad Fraud and Mobile Ad Fraud Explained in Plain English


Apsalar‘s recent educational posts are driving a lot of positive commentary, so we will continue to post short – in plain English – definitions and explanations of buzzy digital topics, in addition to our usual discussions of mobile apps, mobile marketing, and data driven insights. Topic suggestions always welcomed.

Today’s topic is ad fraud!

What is Ad Fraud?

Ad fraud is the practice of deliberately attempting to drive ad impressions that have no potential of being seen by a real person. Ad Fraud is a crime – it is deliberate, premeditated, and designed to rob advertisers of value for their advertising spend.

Much ad fraud is driven by bots – software designed to automate repetitive tasks online. Now, not all bots are bad. Not by a longshot. Search engines, for example, uses bots to examine millions of pages and apps every day to understand what content they offer. They use this information so they can deliver the best possible results with their search engines. Such bots are obviously not malicious. They are not designed to defraud advertisers, though it is possible that a search engine bot can trigger an ad impression while doing its job.

Bot-driven ad fraud is different. These bots are deliberately developed to load ad views so that the criminal entity earns advertising dollars.

Net net, impressions delivered to bots are not necessarily ad fraud. It is the malicious intent that makes some of them fraudulent. Non-malicious bot impressions are better addressed under the topic of viewability.

Some Examples of How Fraud is Perpetrated

There are a multitude of ad fraud tactics – here are just a couple of examples:

  1. Bots that secretly take over consumer PCs and spawn page views unseen by the user.
  2.  Networks of hijacked computers (“botnets”) that fake consumer traffic. Virtual machines that mimic consumer PCs and rapidly spawn thousands of page views.
  3. Videos that automatically play but which are extremely small or even invisible on the page.
  4. Software that emulates multiple clicks every time a consumer makes a real click

Ad fraud, and the fight against it, is a continuing arms race, with each protection breakthrough spawning a new approach to perpetrating fraud.

How Prevalent is Ad Fraud

All researchers who have studied ad fraud have identified it as a significant amount of total web traffic. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA and online fraud detection firm, White Ops, conducted one of the largest industry studies, in which they found that 11% of display and 23% of video impressions were caused by bots and botnets. Another leading industry association, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), stated that almost 36% of web traffic was fake.

Detecting and Preventing Ad Fraud

The best defense against ad fraud is information combined with tools to take action in intelligent ways. On the PC web, media companies are using strategies to identify bots by, for example, treating thousands of impressions in a short period from a PC or group of PCs as suspect. Non-human activity often “looks” different when analysts examine it closely.

In the app world, where Apsalar has been a leader for years, we help clients identify and combat ad fraud through a variety of methods. One of the most important is by helping clients identify vendors that drive installs that don’t later lead to app loads and in-app purchases. Now, not every app legitimately downloaded is later used, but vendors with a high incidence of fraudulent activity drive much higher proportions of nonproductive downloads. So much app media is purchased on a cost per install basis, this is an important insight.

When clients collect data with a company like Apsalar, they are empowered to see which vendors and users are real people and which are likely fraudulent. When brands don’t have data or partners to help defend their investments against fraud, the risk is significantly higher. Apsalar is constantly developing new ways to detect and prevent fraud. For more information on our approaches and the larger issue of fraud, get in touch with us.

And you can download a PDF of this content, as well as marketing basics topics, in our “Take 5” section of the website.

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