Combating Impression Fraud: It’s Easy

Editor’s Note: This article written by Marcus Pratt was first published by AdExchanger in the “Data-Driven Thinking” segment on January 31, 2014

“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Marcus Pratt is, VP, Director of Insights and Technologies at Mediasmith

Some estimate that a quarter or more of exchange media could be fraudulent. This has generated much discussion within the industry, with some claiming that only buyers can fix this issue, while others contend the problem sits squarely on the sell side. Naturally, the ad-tech community has been questioned, with DSPs more or less stating: “We’re working on it.”

This issue is clearly far from resolved even though nearly everyone is aware of the problem. In an ideal world, the sell side, ad-tech companies and buyers would all work towards a solution. Although we’ve seen some progress made with initiatives like the IAB’s Traffic of Good Intent, it will take time to impact the average media buy.
Buyers should not wait for the industry to sort this out. Here’s how they can take action today to reduce their exposure to fraud.

Stopping Impression Fraud Is Hard

In a AdExchanger column last year, Alex White of Peer39 appears to place the blame on advertisers for letting this fraud occur.

“Advertisers are the party paying for fraud right now, but only because they allow it,” he wrote.

White argues that advertisers should select one of several available tools offered for fraud detection. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Advertisers face many challenges when trying to combat impression fraud, particularly within RTB environments.

For example, the nature of RTB is such that, once an advertiser submits a winning bid, it becomes the owner of that impression. This means solutions must determine whether an impression is valid in a matter of milliseconds. Many solutions do not provide prevention services in an RTB environment, focusing on fraud detection. Detecting fraud can help future optimization, but it would be preferable to block it before purchasing the impression.

Ad exchanges do not currently provide rebates or clawbacks to most RTB buyers, though I agree with AdExchanger columnist Andrew Casale that they should. Intermediaries buying exchange inventory on behalf of advertisers, such as ad networks, ATDs and full-service DSPs, may offer make-goods, but since they are still on the hook to pay the exchanges, this make-good will come out of their margin. Those with slimmer margins are less likely to provide campaign refunds.

Mediasmith Morsel

Fresh from the Academy Awards, its interesting to see how important cellphones have become to the movies other than to take a promotional “selfie” of movie stars.

Thirty percent of all movie tickets are bought on mobile phones, according to a new report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and InMobi. And 87 percent of moviegoers researched a movie on smartphones after seeing an ad for that movie in another medium.


The reports goes on to state more of the important ways mobile devices influence moviegoers, defined as respondents who said they would see a film at theaters within the next three months, or about 50 percent of adults.
56 percent of moviegoers turn to mobile for entertainment research, second only to TV where 57 percent of respondents get their movie information.
Two out of three moviegoers use a movie-related app for activities like buying tickets, checking listings, and playing games based on the movies.
41 percent of moviegoers have viewed trailers on smartphones.
Moviegoers are most interested in viewing trailers for new movies on smartphones, making it a good channel to build excitement around new releases.
Read more here from the Adweek article: IAB and InMobi

Preventing fraud at the impression level requires that solutions fully integrate with buying platforms to prevent a bid submission for fraudulent inventory. This takes time, and most fraud detection solutions are not integrated with major DSPs.

Further more, this isn’t cheap. Many solutions charge on a CPM basis, with the cost similar to third-party ad-serving. To get a rough estimate on what fraud detection might cost, look at a recent ad-serving bill. Eliminating 25% waste may be worth the cost, but it is harder to find immediate ROI on a detection-only investment.

3 Things Buyers Can Do Today

1. Develop A White List

If you are on the buy side, take look at your media plan and identify what level of transparency you have to the URL level. Direct buys with trusted media publishers may have some level of fraud, but the rates of occurrence are much lower than with long-tail exchange inventory. Buys running on opaque inventory (site list not provided) deserve deeper scrutiny.

For those offering control over where your ads will run, develop a white list of sites you feel comfortable with. There are companies that can help create these, and prior performance reports may be helpful in determining what sites to include. If evaluating domains manually, there are a few signs that a site is likely to be bot-ridden. For example, the sites that are visited almost exclusively by bots often look like they were built by bots. Look for the following:

  • No “about us,” contact page or other information on who operates the site
  • Lack of dates and or bylines on articles
  • Content scraped from other sites
  • Poor site layout
  • Five or more ad slots
  • One example I often use is the site At first glance this site looks like a haven for computer programmers and IT professionals. On closer look, the content makes very little sense and appears to be scraped from random sections of how-to books on computing. Click one level deep and every page has 10 ads. It may not be trafficked almost exclusively by bots ­- though I expect it is – but even if the traffic here is human, the quality of the impressions is very low.

By running only on approved sites, using a white-list approach, advertisers can avoid unfamiliar URLs that may have bad traffic. This is far more effective than a black-list approach, where an ad is eligible to serve anywhere except the sites identified on the list. Using a black-list approach requires constant updating to keep up with the fraudsters.

Mediasmith Morsel

More people around the world have cell phones than ever had land-lines.

There are almost as many cell-phone subscriptions (6.8 billion) as there are people on this earth (seven billion)-and it took a little more than 20 years for that to happen. In 2013, there were some 96 cell-phone service subscriptions for every 100 people in the world. Shouting is the likely the next-most widespread communications technique:


Picture by Reuters/Steven Chen

The figures in the chart below are the latest from the United Nations’ telecommunications agency, which keeps track of the rise and fall of various kinds of communications technology. Of course, 100 subscriptions doesn’t mean that everyone has a cell phone, just most people. In wealthier countries, penetration rates exceed 100% because of individuals with multiple subscriptions, making up for the disparity in developing economies. Still, penetration rates are impressive even in poor countries, with an average of 89.4 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.


The continent of Africa has dismal fixed-line penetration of 1.4 subscriptions per 100 people, but 63.5 cell subscriptions.

By Tim Fenholz with Quartz

2. Test A Detection Company

Consider using a third-party company to measure your current levels of suspected fraudulent activity. As noted above, the cost can be significant, but most will provide a free test and the results could be illuminating. If you have the ability to negotiate make-goods from fraudulent inventory, a detection tool could pay for itself. Before committing to a long-term agreement with a detection company, work with media vendors to update proof of performance terms and set benchmarks for campaigns. For advertisers with significant RTB budgets, look for a solution that will help with active prevention in addition to just measurement.

Mediasmith Morsel

Medismith’s Marcus Pratt, VP, Director of Insights and Technologies, chosen one of the SF Egotist and AD2SF winners of San Francisco’s 32 Under 32.

At the SF Egotist, they are celebrating the people who make our fine creative city even better. So they partnered their colleagues at AD2SF to identify and recognize San Francisco’s greatest young advertising and marketing talent – the 32 Under 32.

They out a call for the industry to nominate anyone who was truly exemplary – and there were certainly no shortage of entrants, which made their job of judging all the tougher and made the honor of being selected even greater. While everyone who was chosen excels at their jobs, most also have given back even more – by volunteering, creating interesting side projects or putting to good use a special skill or talent.

They have started posting one interview each day with each of the winners. So keep an eye out.

3. Optimize Away From The Fraud

Finally, take a look at measurement to ensure you are optimizing to the deepest metrics possible. Bots are very good at wasting impressions, they love to click on ads and will frequently visit an advertiser’s website. They do not, however, buy products. Advertisers with visibility into sales data by channel will be less likely to optimize into fraudulent inventory, while those optimizing to CTR may find more significant amounts of fraud.

A final thought for buyers sitting on the sidelines waiting for the industry to sort through these issues. As more advertisers take action to reduce purchases of fraudulent inventory, advertisers who do not change current practices could see a greater share of their impressions served to robots. The longer we wait, the worse it will get.

Follow Mediasmith (@MediasmithInc), Marcus Pratt (@mawkus) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.