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Bot fraud quantified

News, 10 December 2014

NEW YORK: A study of bot fraud in the digital advertising industry has found that almost one quarter of video ad impressions and more than half of third party sourced traffic is fraudulent.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and fraud detection specialist White Ops analysed 181 campaigns from 36 ANA member companies, which were tagged to identify bot fraud – where criminals collect payments from advertisers for non-human impressions. A total of 5.5bn impressions in 3m domains was measured over 60 days in line with industry spending patterns.

"This study confirmed some prior assumptions and fears, but it is not about sowing distrust or policing ecosystem partners," said Michael Tiffany, White Ops CEO. "It's about stopping outright criminal theft." The sums involved are expected to be $6.3bn in 2015.

Video ads were especially at risk, with 23% of video ad impressions attributable to bots compared to just 11% of display ad impressions. This is in part because bot operators are attracted by the higher CPMs available.

The research also found that programmatic display bot traffic averaged 17% and that bot fraud for retargeted ads was 19%.

A particular danger for publishers is buying sourced traffic from a third party as a means to drive additional unique visitors to their site: the bot fraud rate on that sourced traffic was 52%.

Nor could advertisers rely on a publisher's status - the report said that reputation "is no longer a reliable benchmark to predict bot traffic level".

Having highlighted the scale of the problem, Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the ANA stated that "this report identifies specific practices marketers, agencies and publishers can immediately implement to combat fraud and the fraudsters that perpetrate it".

So, for example, one recommendation is to advertise during waking hours, as bot fraud peaks between midnight and 7am, the time when botnet controllers hijack everyday consumers' identities and home machines to conduct ad fraud.

The other 16 recommendations include demanding transparency for sourced traffic, including language on non-human traffic in terms and conditions and announcing your anti-fraud policy to all external partners.

Liodice added that the ANA was committed to the creation of a trustworthy supply chain and invited the entire ecosystem "to collaborate and invest the necessary resources to reinvigorate trust and confidence" in it.

Data sourced from ANA; additional content by Warc staff