The Specter of Ad Frauds - Herat Maniar, Founder & CEO, AudienceBay

Hyphbot and Methbot - the two ad frauds considered to be the biggest ones ever, recently plagued the industry and devoured enormous amounts of advertisers’ money. Methbot generated around $3 to $5 million in fraudulent ad revenue per day by targeting the premium video advertising ecosystem. The Hyphbot, on the other hand, was 3-4 times the size of Methbot, generating up to 1.5 billion requests per day. The sheer volume of the losses is enough to explain the gravity of this humongous problem of ad frauds facing the industry today.According to WhiteOps, marketers lost $7.2 billion to digital ad fraud in 2016. 

Frauds like these have cost a lot to the entire advertising ecosystem including the advertisers as well as the publishers. Due to Methhot, advertisers have lost trust in publishers as to whether they are genuine publishers or the impersonated ones. This has deprived publishers of huge revenue opportunities.

It is in this light that we bring you a brief overview of the different types of ad frauds that are giving advertisers a hard time today. Fundamentally, ad frauds are of 2 types: human traffic and non-human traffic (NHT). We have heard of Click farms, Ad stacking, Ad injection, Cookie stuffing, Domain spoofing, and many more...  However, in this article, we shall focus on the two widespread ones: Click farms and Domain Spoofing.

Click farms:

The main task of click farm is to make the content Viral, whether internet wants it or not. It is ‘rigging’ of the democratic internet.

Perhaps, it is the most unintelligent form of human ad fraud. “Click farms”  do nothing but hire people to click on various ads,watch out videos and even sign up for newsletter thus increasing the number of interactions with the content artificially. It is a huge business in developing countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc..

As the clicks go on increasing, advertisers’ budgets get drained, without any actual output. Click frauds have leeched off millions of dollars from advertisers budgets.

Click frauds can be identified by analyzing the click patterns and identifying the anomalies using Machine learning algorithms.

Domain spoofing:

It is a practice wherein fraudsters pass off low-quality inventory as a high-quality or premium site. The Methbot fraud is one of the latest instances of domain spoofing. The perpetrators created fake websites which were designed to look like premium publisher inventory. The software “watched” as many as 300 million video ads per day using automated web browsers run from deceitfully acquired IP addresses. 

On a broader note, domain spoofing can be done through two methods – cross-domain embedding or through URL substitution. In cross-domain embedding, two domains are paired side by side, one with a safe content and low traffic and the other with unsafe content and high traffic. Fraudsters open an ad-sized version of the unsafe content alongside the safe content using customized IFrame, thus the ads on the safe content are exposed to the high traffic of the unsafe content. In URL substitution, a fake URL is substituted by the time of bidding. This can be easily tracked and does not do much to hide the fraud.

Blockchain - a potential solution:

The Blockchain technology has huge potential to check the problem of ad frauds. Basically, a non-editable ledger records all transactions. It would thus help to keep a track of all the activities in the ad transactions and bring in a greater transparency and accountability in the system.

At AudienceBay we have a robust ecosystem for combating ad frauds by facilitating the implementation of the Blockchain technology. The multiple ad exchanges that send us the ad requests also act as individual  nodes in a blockchain. These requests are then analyzed for any anomalies using our data science algorithms designed specifically for fraud prevention and bot traffic detection

With lesser fraud related wastage, more money goes in the hands of rightful publishers and with this advertisers get better quality initiating a virtuous cycle. At AudienceBay, we have happier publishers and happier advertisers.

(The Author is Herat Maniar, Founder & CEO, AudienceBay. AudienceBay ecosystem ring fences ‘Programmatic media’ world by leveraging super and secured blockchain technology. It addresses the need for user privacy and security.)

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