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Digital ad fraud may be understated

News, 05 February 2015

LUXEMBOURG: Google's recent finding that 56% of online ads served are never seen by people might actually underestimate the seriousness of the problem, according to a new report.

Oxford BioChronometrics, a Luxembourg-based start up, was spun out from Oxford University's Isis Software Incubator to develop its human recognition technology. In the wake of Google's announcement, undertook a limited test, running ads on Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook and monitoring subsequent engagement.

Depending on the platform, the research suggested that between 88% and 98% of digital ad engagement is fraudulent. It also noted that the team's ads were billed for these fraudulent clicks and impressions.

"We didn't make this press release lightly and we're keenly aware of the ire it will draw," said Oxford BioChronometrics' chairman and chief technology officer Adrian Neal. "However, we believe that the integrity of the online community must be served and felt we had no choice but to go public with our findings."

As well as the extraordinary headline figures, the research also identified six types of bot, ranging from basic, through enhanced, highly enhanced, advanced, highly advanced to humanoid.

Humanoid bots, the research said, can only be detected through deep behavioural analysis with particular emphasis on attempts to subsequently introduce measures of random behaviour that mimic natural human behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, Oxford BioChronometrics says that not only can it identify these bots it can also guarantee human clicks. Leaving aside the self-interest issue, the industry may need to consider the possibility that it is facing an ebola-like environment which it may struggle to contain.

"People who deploy the bots that commit ad fraud are getting ahead of the standard methods of detecting them," said Neal. "The common tools and methods of detection are no longer enough."

While advertisers are the most obvious victims of fraud, Corey Weiner, chief operating officer at Jun Group, an ad platform, recently commented on the negative consequences for premium publishers as the usual rules of supply and demand are distorted.

"It [fraud] forces publishers to compete with inventory that doesn't exist, driving prices lower," he said.

Accordingly, publishers are among those pushing for higher standards that ensure valid impressions and 100% viewability.

Data sourced from PR Newswire, Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff