How Companies Battle Ad Fraud
Advertising is a crucial component of the internet ecosystem.
12:13 15 July 2019
Selling advertising space enables website and app developers to make money. Developers of all sizes, from individual app developers right up to tech titans like Facebook, are reliant upon the revenue they make from advertising in order to make a profit.
Given that there is money involved, it is perhaps unsurprising that there are people out there who are determined to cheat the system. Ad fraudsters have refined their techniques over the years and now operate some very sophisticated schemes. Advertisers want to know that their ads are being seen by real people, developers want to know that they are getting paid properly for the ads that they serve up.
How Does Ad Fraud Work?
There are a variety of techniques that fraudsters might use in order to present a false picture of which ads are being displayed and to how many people. Fraudsters are stealing billions of dollars every year from advertisers. Some of their methods are relatively easy to detect, others are almost impossible at present.
Many app developers have been left perplexed by a sudden surge in their apps battery and mobile data usage. Out of nowhere, users start reporting that their batteries are being drained faster than usual and the app is using more data than seems reasonable.
One potential explanation for these changes would be ad fraud. If a fraudster has hidden a video advertisement on the page, users will be unknowingly paying the data costs of loading a video that they don’t see. Meanwhile, the fraudsters are being paid for an advert that no one sees.
In some cases, fraudsters may even layer a number of video players on top of each other. After all, advertising space on a website is pretty cheap, especially if you’re able to significantly, albeit unethically, boost your earnings in this way.
It is the user who ends up paying the data costs of loading those videos, while the brand or business whose video advert is being played but not shown is paying for an advert that is being shown to no one. Finally, the app developer themselves, who should be being paid for the video ads, is only being paid for the space to display a static banner ad.
What Techniques Do They Use?
One of the most common forms of ad fraud is the use of invisible or hidden ads. We outlined one example of how this is accomplished above, but there are numerous ways of going about it. For example, a fraudster could set an add to display in a frame 1x1 pixel in size. This would mean that there would be a single pixel on the user’s screen that was actually displaying an ad, although no one would be able to see it.
The goal of this technique is to get an impression to register without having to actually show the ad to anyone. In some cases, the fraudster can have multiple advertisements being rendered and loaded while the user is totally unaware. Remember, just because the user doesn’t see it that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t loaded, therefore incurring data costs.
Another common technique is impression laundering. This is a technique that is designed to obscure the website that an ad will be displayed upon. To being with, a legitimate advertiser buys ads from a publisher with a reputation and audience that fits with their brand. In other words, a publisher whose audience is similar to that of the advertisers.
Advertisers are willing to pay higher cost per mile rates if they think that their adverts are going to be shown mostly or wholly to an audience that is favorable to them. Unbeknownst to the advertiser, a number of the impressions that they have paid for are coming from websites that aren’t relevant to them. Often these are websites that have very high traffic but illegal content and are therefore generally difficult to monetize.
By using a couple of relatively sophisticated techniques, fraudsters are able to launder the ad calls so that when the advertiser checks their reports, they will see legitimate sites in place of the fraudulent ones. This makes this type of fraud quite difficult to detect.
How do Ad Companies Verify Ads?
Advertisers naturally want to make sure that they are getting their moneys worth from publishers. Ad verification is the process by which ad companies verify that the ads they produce are being displayed correctly and in the right context. This means that the adverts need to be visible, they need to be located in an appropriate location on an appropriate website.
In order to verify that adverts are being displayed appropriately, advertisers use beacons and verification tags which are displayed along with the ad, unbeknownst to the user. These components will analyze the content of the surrounding page to ensure it is on the right website.
Reports are then sent back to the relevant advertiser or agency whoa re able to analyze the data and assess it. These services are generally provided through ad verifiers who serve as an independent third-party who can provide impartial data.
The purpose of verification is not to prevent fraudulent ads from happening in the first place, verification can only be performed on ads that have already been displayed. Instead, the purpose of ad verification is to root out publishers with very low visibility and to blacklist any fraudulent actors as early in the campaign as possible.
Using Proxies to Check for Ad Fraud
Proxy servers are an important tool for any business or advertiser who wants to verify that their ads are being displayed and seen correctly on Google, Facebook or other platforms. Proxies can be used to connect to a website or service from multiple different IP addresses, making it easy to simulate a number of different users connecting. Not only this, proxies can be used to connect to a publisher from just about anywhere in the world, so you can verify international markets as well.
This makes proxies ideal for verifying the integrity of your localized ads. This might not be an issue on the same scale as having your banner ads highjacked, but it will enable you to ensure that your ads are at least being displayed properly and identify some of the most common examples of ad fraud.
Ad verification companies themselves utilize proxies in order to disguise the true origins of their connections. Otherwise, fraudsters could simply look for the IP addresses of known ad verifiers and serve them different content. They, therefore, utilize residential proxies in order to make their connections look just as unremarkable as anyone else’s.
Ad fraud is a serious issue that continues to threaten the integrity of the online advertising ecosystem. Advertisers and businesses need to both remain diligent and take steps to minimize the amount of money and resources they are spending on adverts that aren’t being shown to anyone. Fortunately, ad verification services are now available to help you ensure the integrity of your campaigns. Invest in a residential proxy setup today and you can begin to take control of your advertising campaigns.