5 ways to prevent Mobile Ad Fraud

by Paul Carolan, Managing Director U.K., Widespace

The close of 2016 saw the largest scale ad fraud operation on record unveiled. White Ops uncovered that Russian group Ad Fraud Komanda were making between $3m and $5m daily, by selling 300m fraudulent video impressions.

It’s clear that fraudsters have moved on from selling fraudulent banner ads after realising they can make money from video. They are already starting to focus on mobile, with the knowledge that advertisers pay a premium for this one-to-one consumer relationship.

Fortunately, we’ve learned lessons from the fraudulent activity that’s plagued desktop, and can transfer this to mobile. However, they are different environments, with different challenges and opportunities, so here’s my top five tips for preventing mobile ad fraud.

Work with trusted partners

We all know that the ad tech market has exploded in the last decade, meaning that advertisers have a plethora of choices when it comes to buying mobile inventory. Each of these players packages inventory from a variety of publishers and sells it as ad units. Many of these are made up of bulk impressions or arbitrage – which is where the opportunity is opened up for fraudsters and the problems creep in for advertisers.

To combat this, advertisers should work with partners that have a reputation in the market for delivering real impressions. At Widespace we guarantee 0% fraud across all advertising campaigns bought through us. This is the kind of assurance brands should be demanding from any mobile advertising partner.

Require full transparency in reporting, pricing and ways of working

The simple fact is that the ad tech industry has been invaded by some bad actors who undermine the efficiency and accuracy the rest of us are offering to the market. To negate this we operate on a system of full transparency. It helps us build trust with our partners, but is also the quickest route to eradicating fraud. If everyone was honest about what they were selling, we would all be cracking down on it.

Transparency means offering access to raw data. This allows clients and partners to evaluate transactions, enables us to set reasonable quality guarantees that we’re all aligned with, and actually serves to build the knowledge of our partners.

It’s always worth remembering that those offering higher levels of transparency will be offering higher quality, and vice versa.

Avoid false incentives

By this I mean techniques that force results by delivering annoying ads. To explain, if you force CPC price down or video completion rate up you get sticky ads, non-closable interstitials and auto-playing videos that continue off-screen.

While this type of incentive isn’t exclusively fraudulent, bulk impressions and click-based measurement are the weak spots that fraudsters exploit.

If we work based on measuring value delivered to the advertiser, we make ourselves dependent on better quality inventory. Take for example brand KPIs, which focus on brand awareness, interest or consideration – this is a world away from artificial clicks.

Initiatives such as IAB LEAN (Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads) or Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and IAB DEAL (Detect, Explain, Ask, and Limit) – all of these drive us towards better quality, and so counter both fraud and zero-value ads. However, we need to be more mobile-specific within some of these.

Analyse your campaigns, and do so with channel specific tools if possible

Marketers should use advanced analytics, make high transparency a requirement, and map the raw marketing data to their business figures to double check. Mapping programmatic marketing efforts to offline data is the best metric out there, at the moment.

Furthermore, monitoring ad placements, comparing results, evaluating load times, viewability, and other metrics, will give advertisers a view of quality. Whenever anomalies or alarming patterns are flagged, advertisers should be asking for more data.

It is also important to use a mobile-specific tool if possible. Results from formats on mobile will vary hugely from those same formats displayed on desktop. The screen size is different, the need state of the user entirely different, so comparing measurements like for like isn’t the most robust way of assessing quality and performance.

Select a third-party anti-fraud partner

Anti-fraud companies offer technical prevention mechanisms. At its simplest this means verification of the device, user agent, domain, ISP, frequency of ad requests, in-screen rates, interaction rates, etc. – with the ability to compare all of this to known human behaviour patterns.
These systems are important as they provide objective, automated quality control and reporting, enabling open discussions to be had between partners.