Ad fraud

Publishers: here’s the best thing you can adopt this festive season

Publishers: here’s the best thing you can adopt this festive season

A kitten? No. And it’s not a puppy either (although, that would be nice). The best thing you can adopt this year is Ads.txt. Unfortunately, it’s not as fluffy as a kitten and it won’t go for walkies. But, it can soon become a man’s (or woman’s) best friend.

This year, P&G’s Marc Pritchard called the digital advertising industry out on it’s lack of transparency, claiming it’s “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst”. But the IAB (the Internet Advertising Bureau) have developed a tool (released in May earlier this year) to help clear the murky waters.

What is Ads.txt?

It’s an IAB-approved tool that can be used to authenticate websites and prevent unauthorised inventory sales.

Why should you care?

This tool removes fraud from the sell side by preventing domain spoofing.

Domain spoofing is when a site is made to resemble a real and established website. This practice allows publishers to misrepresent low quality inventory as coming from high quality sources.

The Financial Times recently investigated domain spoofing against their site and found shockingly high levels: “They estimated the value of the fraudulent inventory to be £1 million a month.” However, this won’t affect their revenue anymore as they’ve recently started using Ads.txt and their inventory can be authorised by buyers.

Also, as you’re probably more than aware, we’re on the cusp of the busiest time of year, so there’s no better time than now to get friendly with Ads.txt.

What are the advantages?

  • Ads.txt is free to use (and who doesn’t love a freebie?)

  • This is a step further towards a fraud free web

  • Increases transparency in the whole industry

  • Opens up communication between all companies along the chain

  • Publishers: maintain your revenue

  • Advertisers: know exactly what inventory you’re buying

What are the disadvantages?

Apart from taking a small amount of time to set up…none!

Great! So how can you adopt Ads.txt?

You need to add an Ads.txt file to your site by adding “/ads.txt” on your root domain. It’s essentially adding an extra page on your website.

For example:

http://example.org/ads.txt

This page will contain the information that the ads.txt crawler will use to verify authentication.

This set of data is a list of advertising systems, such as DSPs, Exchanges etc. that are allowed to buy inventory on that site. This will include their domain names, a unique publisher account number and the type of account (direct/reseller).

For example:

coull.com, 12345, DIRECT #banner

google.com, 23456, DIRECT #banner

appnexus.com, 34567, RESELLER #native

Why do we love Ads.txt at Coull?

Ads.txt fits in with our company ad fraud ethos:

Coull's ethos.png

We think that implementing Ads.txt throughout the whole industry will bring more transparency and teamwork and will help fight the battle against those nasty fraudsters.

So, what’s next?

The IAB are looking to make Ads.txt mandatory soon, so the earlier you can implement it, the better. Companies all along the chain are already saying they only want to work with Ads.txt publishers. Don’t lose out on your revenue for something that is free and so simple.

For more information on Ads.txt, visit the IAB Tech Lab.

Posted by Naomi Sandercock in Coull comment
One idea, countless battles: Coull’s journey against fraud

One idea, countless battles: Coull’s journey against fraud

Born out of the vibrant streets of Bristol, Coull has always had creativity at the heart of the business. Coull’s founders had a vision of making online video advertising an engaging and interactive experience. The idea was brewing away in the background since 2005, but the online video world was still growing and adapting. High speed internet hadn’t appeared and many different video formats made things more complicated.

Skip forward a few years to 2007, YouTube had grown to over 50 million users and high speed internet had arrived. Families were able to watch a cat play a piano, a dog surfing and someone biting Charlie’s finger, from the comfort of their own homes. It was revolutionary and people couldn’t get enough. The popularity of video content shot up and the creators wanted a way to profit from it.

Cue Coull. 2008 was our founding year and although we’ve come a long way since then, it was always about our love affair with video.

Programmatic arrived like a whirlwind in 2013. By connecting everyone and allowing quicker, more efficient sales, it sounded like a dream. Caught up in the vortex of the programmatic online world, Coull started out with an ad network model. We were integrating with leading programmatic platforms to enable delivery of interest-based, targeted advertising at a global scale.

All of the innovations emerging from the humble office in Bristol were exciting, but there was one big problem with the online advertising industry: fraud. The colossal speed at which the digital world had developed meant that regulation of crime, particularly ad fraud, couldn’t keep up.

But Coull were prepared. We were producing our own in house anti-fraud technology in the background for some time, such as: domain and IP filters, URL detection and implementing the IAB’s VPAID specification.

As anticipated, the talk about fraud in the media increased and some shocking figures flagged up. Behind the scenes, fraudsters had been on a crime shopping spree and cost the industry billions each year.

We quickly realised that, although ad networks were great for connecting us, the business model was a doomed one. It was undifferentiated, commoditised and arbitraged inventory, combined with a justifiable loss of trust from buyers resulting in an inevitable race to the bottom. More importantly, it didn’t represent our original vision to be unique and think outside the box.

First and foremost, at Coull we pride ourselves on being a technology company. We have a dedicated team, many of whom are developers, and a fresh minded approach, that has lead to building and launching the Coull Platform. Our Platform consists of the Coull SSP, Coull Exchange and distinct Coull advertising formats, which are all self-built to fit Coull’s vision.

With us, publishers can earn revenue without spamming their content, advertisers can benefit from effective formats and users don’t get overloaded by ads. Not only this, but we’ve learnt from our experiences and we have a very comprehensive compliance process paired with a strong company ethos on combatting fraud.

We’ve invested in and improved our proprietary technology to ensure anti-fraud and brand safety. Applying our technology, we have a dedicated compliance team and partnerships with industry leading verification vendors. Using their audit results, our true URL detection product and IP filters, we can effectively fight domain spoofing, bot fraud and build trust between our partners.

But we aren’t stopping there. Viewability is of paramount importance. We currently measure viewability through our partners, but we have additional plans to improve our business. Using our technology expertise, in combination with our measurement partners, we expect to build our own viewable inventory marketplaces.

Unfortunately, the internet won’t ever be fraud free. Even recently, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimate that ad fraud is likely to exceed $50 billion by 2025. Much like a game of whack-a-mole, as soon as one source of fraud is stamped out, another three pop up. But by having our own technology and platform, regulation is a lot simpler for us and being transparent with partners is easier.

After nine years of a bumpy rollercoaster ride in the online advertising industry, we’re now proud to say we’ve come a long way, keeping our founder’s vision alive and continuing to aspire. We have a strong ethos on fraud and are always trying to be transparent, educate and work together with partners so no one has to tackle fraud alone.

If you want to find out more about Coull’s fraud fighting technology and our high performance products, talk to our team.

Coull's ethos.jpg

 

Posted by Naomi Sandercock in Coull news
Combatting ad fraud on the wild wild web

Combatting ad fraud on the wild wild web

Films are made about drug cartels and stories are told of famous bank heists. But why aren’t we talking about one of the biggest organised crimes in the world: online ad fraud? It may not seem as dramatic as many other crime stories, but the elusiveness of digital fraud is one of the many reasons it’s not stopping and we think it’s worth talking about.

By 2025, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimate that ad fraud is likely to exceed $50 billion, making it second only to the drugs trade in terms of income. The web is turning into the wild west; every advertiser, publisher and adtech company for themselves. Ad fraud is relentless and jeopardising free online content.

But not to worry, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Coull have come a long way since our humble beginnings, we quickly realised how huge ad fraud was and we had to change this. Since then, we have been trying to tackle fraud in the wild wild web.

First of all, what should we all be looking for?

Automated traffic: Otherwise known as non-human traffic (NHT), it is the most common form of ad fraud. These bots can come from software applications which run automated tasks over the internet to simulate human activity.

Invalid traffic: Traffic running through a domain being undesirable, this does not mean the domain itself is bad and therefore would not require blocking. However, the source of the traffic needs to be found and removed.

Ghost sites: Ghost sites are made to resemble real web sites, but have no value and instead host a multitude of advertisements.

Proxy traffic: A proxy allows anonymous access to the internet and can browse the internet without leaving a footprint. This means all ad requests will go through a proxy, so for those monitoring the requests, the only thing visible is the proxy – there’s no way to know who’s behind it.

Cloaked domains: This is when an imbalance between the domain where the ad appeared and the referring domain. This practice enables undesirable properties such as pirate and adult portals to sell inventory under a high-CPM category such as cars or travel.

Spoofing: A malicious party impersonates another device (or user) on a network in order to show ad requests from more reputable sources.

Ad injection: The ad is loaded by ad injection software, often bundled with other software like games and toolbars. This artificially inflates the number of ads on a page and can lead to negative user experience.

With a free and open Internet dependant on ad revenues, it’s important that the entire chain, along with industry associations, work together to ultimately strike out the risk of advertising fraud.

Here’s Coull’s advice and ethos:

Transparency

Being able to be completely open and honest with everyone in the industry means that, things like invalid traffic and ghost sites are easier to detect. Without transparency, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack…in the dark.

Coull strives to be a transparent and trusted company to work with, which is why we’ve put a huge amount of time, effort and investment into eradicating invalid traffic from our platform. For example, we have added features to our publisher dashboard to enable our publisher partners to see when we detect any invalid traffic coming from them and our compliance team stamp it out.

Team work

We don’t have to tackle this crime alone, using the best third party vendors to verify traffic is much more effective. At Coull, we work with MRC accredited 3rd party verification tools to track all inventory and act accordingly.

Also, we have our very own fraud detecting hero, Nicola, Coull’s compliance manager. Every day, Nicola manually scans traffic and domains to cut out the pesky bots and *inappropriate* websites. This enables us to have a multi-level process targeting ad fraud and eliminating it from our platform.

We have introduced our Traffic Quality Assurance program to help publisher partners reach the quality required to partner with Coull and to help our advertisers buy media with confidence.

No double standards

Much like the wild west, online advertising doesn’t have many set rules, turning the internet into a western shootout – fraudulent traffic coming from every direction. One way to stop fraud is by measuring genuine ad impressions and true viewability.

Although industry bodies like the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) are setting guidelines, not everyone follows them. There are a huge number of ad tech vendors running their own measurement of these standards. This means each vendor’s results will be different, affecting expected CPMs, creating a lack of expected inventory and mistrust.

Coull has been working on pre-bid viewability technology. We can detect where the ad unit is on the page before it’s served, enabling advertisers to decide what inventory to purchase based on whether their ad would likely be in view. The biggest advantage is that this minimizes wasted ad spend, giving demand partners real-time data to help them make the best buying decision.

Educate

Coull’s queen of compliance, Nicola says, “Educating people about the different types of fraud is one of the most important things at the moment. Unfortunately, law enforcement is still behind on tackling ad fraud, so we need to learn how to defend ourselves.” So that means, helping publishers recognise any fraudulent traffic and the different forms it comes in. Also, helping buyers achieve efficient and valuable return on campaigns by evading traps and not buying blind.

Direct partnerships

With the hundreds of partners, networks and exchanges out there it makes it easier for fraud to creep in. Whereas, having direct partnerships can eliminate the risk. According to Integral Ad Science, nearly 9% of digital ads delivered via programmatic channels are fraudulent, compared with only 2% of ads delivered through direct deals with publishers.

Coull cut out the middlemen by hosting our own exchange, connecting demand partners directly to publishers’ ad servers. And our formats, OverStream and Double:UP are direct publisher integrations, for a simpler, diluted environment.
What now?

Many companies are working on anti-fraud techniques, particularly the buy side. However, this year will hopefully see more supply side and exchange take the lead.

Publishers: Fraudulent activity can compromise your business model and can damage the brand’s reputation. You need to be able to identify the different forms of invalid traffic and be transparent about inventory.

Advertisers: Fake views on your online campaign is wasting money and creates inaccurate data about the ad’s performance. Make sure you know exactly what inventory you’re buying to protect brand image and have a more valuable return on campaigns.

Ad tech suppliers: If fraud is being hosted by your technology, you will be liable for rebates or refunds to your advertisers and their agencies – and may even be removed from media plans. Work on keeping up standards and abiding by guidelines. Also, direct relationships with partners result in more trust and transparency.  

It’s all about teamwork and education to banish the fraud cowboys from the wild wild web, for good.

Posted by Naomi Sandercock in Coull news

How to identify and avoid invalid traffic fraud

Recent reports from the IAB show that digital ad fraud is second only to the opium and cocaine trade in terms of crime rates and revenue. That’s a pretty devastating stat for anyone working in the ad tech industry, and anyone buying media.

But it’s not end of days, in fact programmatic is lifting its game and those who can’t or won’t comply to providing better will find themselves ousted come 2017. The most important thing we need to do right now is help publishers understand what forms invalid traffic takes and how to recognise it. And to help buyers ensure efficient and valuable return on campaigns by evading traps and buying blind.

There are many players in the programmatic ad world, many pipes connecting many different suppliers to advertisers, agencies and brands. At the end of that supply pipe exists many different forms of fraud. Understanding what types of fraud exist is important, and we are taking steps to educate our partners about exactly what they are.

Here are some of the most common types of invalid traffic fraud and how to catch them out:

Ghost sites

We can prove that ghosts exist because we have an abundance of evidence – here’s how to spot a cyber spook:

Ghost sites are made to resemble real web sites that host a multitude of advertisements but when scrutinised further it’s easy to tell a real site from a false one.

Ghost sites will usually use a standard blog template, meaning that they often look exactly the same as each other and appear to be legitimate sites.. The domain name of a ‘ghost site’ will nearly always describe a contextual category (e.g. food, automotive, fashion) that appeals to advertisers.

Some basic signs of a ghost site are:

  • Ghost sites referral traffic often comes from an unsafe location such as a porn site but will be camouflaged with another url – usually one that doesn’t link to anything because it’s not real.

  • Links within content don’t work

  • Social media links don’t work or direct you to a page that’s pretty much empty

  • Videos within the content will take an age to load because the player is requesting as many ads as it can. Ads can appear behind the page itself, be hidden in the page or start to load  a ridiculous amount – often that you’ll never see.

  • About us and contact pages will have content that is scraped from other sites

  • Try emailing the support or sales team – the email will invariably bounce

  • The page will have incredibly high bounce rates

  • Real, quality site domains will be copied and the same url with a different path such as .tv will be purchased.The site will look very much the same as the .com version but the content won’t change much. Company addresses will be false and you will often find the layout of ghost sites have many similarities or are exactly the same template.

  • Copy is scraped from other sites so if you search for it, you’ll it appearing in other places and will eventually find the source.

Got time for a quick test your ad fraud knowledge activity?

Both these sites are blacklisted by Coull  – can you identify any of the above ghost site tell tales?

Gardengirly.com

http://fashionitch.com/

Domain Fraud

Domain fraud relates to a issue with the actual domain being sent through to us, this will often require a supply partner to block said domain. Domain fraud can come in many different forms, there could be a mismatch between the domain declared and where the ad is actually placed for example.

Domain spoofing can be one of the most difficult to detect as well as prevent and can therefore be the most lucrative form of invalid domains. Those spoofing domains declare inaccurate domains in order to make advertisers believe that invalid, or low quality domains, are reputable and often highly sort after.

Watch-Movies-Online.cc → Changed to show → usatoday.com

IVT (Invalid Traffic)

Invalid traffic relates to the traffic running through a domain being undesirable, this does not mean the domain itself is bad and therefore would not require blocking. However the source of the traffic needs to be found and removed. Here are types of invalid traffic:

Proxy Traffic

A proxy allows access to the internet anonymously and can browse the internet without leaving any kind of footprint. This means all ad requests will go through a proxy, so for those monitoring the requests, the only thing visible is the proxy – there’s no way to know who’s behind it.

No proxy: User → Domain

Proxy used: User → Proxy → Domain

People using proxies are usually trying to hide themselves – although there can be a few legitimate reasons to use proxies they are more often used to hide malicious activity.

IP Reputation

IP reputation means that the detected IP has historically been shown to be high risk due to being associated with characteristics of fraudulent activity.

Automated Traffic

Automated traffic refers to malicious bots or non-human traffic, designed to generate false ad impressions, or serve hidden, unseen ads, all while avoiding detection. Often they take over a user’s computer, running in the background whilst the user is unaware of the issue.

Spoofing

Spoofing is a practise where a user’s browser and/or device are manipulated to resemble a different browser and/or device. The malicious party impersonates another device (or user) on a network in order to show ad requests from more reputable sources. This is often used to simulate traffic from multiple visitors and therefore increases the amount of potential impressions running through an exchange.

Transparency is key to fighting cyber crime

We’ve put a huge amount of time, effort and investment into eradicating invalid traffic from our platform and have added new features to our publisher dashboard to enable our publisher partners to see when we detect any invalid traffic coming from them. We alert them to any problems and help them to clean it up so the value of their inventory and relationships with agencies, brand and advertisers is always credible, and buyers transact with confidence.

Having an ethos of transparency is key to fighting cyber crime in all its formats and we believe in providing unique creative offered at programmatic scale, that’s trusted and efficient.

We have introduced our Traffic Quality Assurance program to help publisher partners reach the quality required to partner with Coull and to help our advertisers buy media with confidence, making the most efficient use of their budgets. We’ve developed a stringent program in line with the MRC’s Invalid Traffic Detection and Filtration Guidelines and we detect and block against (GIVT) and (SIVT) as defined  by the IAB, MMA and MRC.

Our platform gives publishers the opportunity to see when they are sending us invalid traffic and work with us to ensure it stops. This strategy has been enforced to ensure we don’t allow invalid media to exist in our platform, helping our publishers increase the value of their inventory and providing a trusted market for brands and agencies to buy valid opportunity to reach their audience.

To find out more about the benefits of working with the Coull Platform, get in touch or visit our OverSteam page to see our video as formats in action.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
How to avoid the digital ad grinch this silly season

How to avoid the digital ad grinch this silly season

Don’t suffer at the mercy of the Christmas Grinch of the ad world this season. We’ve got some tips for avoiding invalid traffic, making your campaigns stand out and ensuring your audience is reached through the clutter of sparkling tinsel and the ho, ho, ho of the big fat man.

Sad and frustrating as it may be, Christmas time is prime time for fraudsters trying to make money from your end of year media budget. Make the boss happy by ensuring you only pay for valid, viewable traffic that’s exactly what it says it is.

When it comes to unwrapping presents on Christmas day, one of the biggest excitements is not knowing what you’re going to find under all that wrapping paper. The same cannot be said for the media buying world.

When you purchase inventory for your brand, it’s pretty darn important you know exactly what you’re getting.

  1. Make sure you work with a compliant and transparent platform or ad network with rules in place about what inventory is sold and what is accepted as valid, in view and brand safe. We have our own invalid traffic score that’s applied to each individual publisher partner and we work with them on a one to one basis to ensure their inventory is compliant. Buy safely and efficiently.

  1. Talk to your account manager about what inventory is available and at what price to ensure you get the best match possible.

  2. Don’t just buy on one metric – although you may be buying inventory based on a viewability percentage, that’s no good at all if the inventory is fraudulent. Cutting corners is not the way to get that Christmas bonus. Frame you KPIs around what matters in programmatic now and ditch historic measurement models.

Make your ad campaigns count

  1. Be as relevant as you can this season by running PMP deals. Talk to your account manager about the best option for your campaigns rather than diving blind into a pool that’s lacking in what you need, or flooded with traffic that’s not validated. Again, work with partners you trust.

  2. Choose ad formats that will be seen by your audience and that have a track record of high CTR like Coull OverStream which performs 10x  better than a standard display ad.

  3. Engage your audience on the move with mobile friendly campaigns

  4. Engage your audience across their favourite content format – video. The IAB and PWC’s latest report shows massive growth in video ad revenue, especially on mobile so be where your audience are.

  5. Let us know what you want – communicate what you want to your platform so they can find the right inventory for you.

Formats

  1. Work with your agency or creative team to make your ad unit do the work for you. Choose the right ad format for your audience. Annoying and interruptive advertising is not the way to get your audience’s attention. You want to engage them when they’re thinking about purchasing, but you don’t want to offend them so be discerning when choosing creative.

  2. Talk to your SSP or Ad Network and find out what formats are the most engaging and efficient for the content you’re buying. Not all ads are born equal, running multiple formats that compliment each other and give you the best chance of being seen will help your media budget work harder.

Check out our OverStream Suite of advertising formats.

Target

  1. Tis the season for re-targeting – with so many purchase decisions being made on specific days, run a re-targeting campaign a few days before black friday to coincide with black friday purchase decisions. Get in early to get that customer.

  2. Target specific devices and locations you know your audience will be buying across. Don’t limit yourself to chance.

  3. Buy across specific categories – knowing what video inventory you’re buying is important when it comes to conversion so ask what’s available.

Keep these tips in mind when planning your upcoming campaigns and get the most from your spend (and keep that mean, green critter away).

Merry end of year ad campaigning to all of you!

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

The Coull ad request journey – Whatsapp style

An ad request really is like a group discussion with everyone bringing something to the table. Our Invalid Traffic Detection looks pretty straight forward but is actually made up of multiple fraud detection vendors as well as our in-house compliance team. And our QUASAR tech has some amazing layers to it that help us ensure the best inventory and brand match. The right conversation means we get the best possible performance every time.

We hope this helps to clarify the ad request process and get some more conversations going.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Coull Quickie October – The one about ad fraud

 We’ve spoken about ad fraud before, it’s making headlines, lots of platforms and vendors are saying they’re doing something about it, but the proof is not in expensive marketing campaigns claiming miracles, it’s in the investment by tech companies to make a real change to the way digital media is bought.

Let’s break this down, discard the sugar coating and get real.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull video

Stop forcing your ad agency to buy fraud

Agencies and marketers are taking the reins of their ad spending and campaign monitoring, but there is still a lot of confusion over what KPIs best capture how well a digital campaign has performed.

But does it really matter?

The short answer, yes.

Marketers’ choice of KPI’s can actually be having a massive impact on the overall success of a digital campaign.

Often the metrics and benchmarks marketers set can indirectly encourage ad buyers to turn to fraudulent options as a means of hitting unrealistic targets. Marketers and Advertisers soon find themselves trapped in the number-chasing cycle.

So, how can we break the cycle?

Mastering the Metrics: Viewability

Marketers and Advertisers need to understand ad metrics and read between the numbers. As Digiday reports, GroupM doesn’t care about the time spent on an ad, but rather whether an ad is 100% in view. Metrics such as viewability rate, fill rate and impression rate can offer detailed information on this, but aiming for an unrealistically high % can pose an array of risks:

  • Pushing for a large amount of impressions may compromise the ad’s placement online.

  • Ad buyers may turn to ad servers and/or players that partake in malpractice such as:

    • counting an impression before the ad has loaded

    • rotating multiple ads in a player to count multiple impressions with no ad being properly served

    • placing an ad on a range of fraudulent websites.

  • Ad buyers may be encouraged to ‘cookie bomb’ a page, by dropping lots of cookies onto a page with the idea that at least a small percentage will convert.

  • Highly viewable traffic is not always highly viewed by humans. Unusually high viewability rates can be an indicator of high fraudulent activity.

Transparent Reporting

Marketers, advertisers & publishers need access to impartial campaign performance  measurement.

Here at Coull we recognise the industry’s need for a third party fraud-free “enforcer”. By using an array of fraud detection tools, such as Forensic, the IAB’s approved cybersecurity service and manual vetting, we are able detect the most sophisticated patterns of fraudulent behaviour & work closely with both the publishers and advertisers to relay this information back and (most importantly) take action across our marketplace.

The duopoly, Google and Facebook, have often been accused of having a much less objective approach to reports due to the fact that some of their ad metrics have yet to be verified by third-parties. The UK Business Insider has likened this to “marking their own homework”.

Realistic Targets

Marketers & Advertisers need to be realistic with their KPI benchmarks. As Venture Beat reports, new video formats such as click-to-play pre-roll, native and out-stream, and video within social content are much more fraud-resistant. However, “ad-buyers continued to expect the high  completion rates the overall industry had been promising”.

       

Many have suggested that the need for a new reporting metric is the real answer to the dilemma. But the reality is, numbers will always be subject to potential manipulation. The responsibility lies with the marketers to tackle digital ad metrics head on, without turning a blind eye to the potential risks. Numbers on fill, viewability and completion on high quality fraud free websites are undoubtedly going to be lower than those generated in the realm of bots, dodgy players and fake websites.

Ultimately, elevated completion rates like those projected by both Facebook and Google in recent months are simply unrealistic for in-feed ads. Both marketers and advertisers need to agree that a potential dip in the graph is a small price to pay for real human views on high quality sites.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
Tackling video ad fraud

Tackling video ad fraud

Digital advertising has had its fair share of issues over the years, some of which have been overcome, some of which remain bugbears and some of which are critically problematic in our industry today.  Ad fraud is without a doubt the latter. In 2015 we saw the rise of bots and in 2016 the advertising industry is set to attribute losses of approximately $7.2 billion globally to the nasty things.

Ad fraud covers a range of cunning practices and deceitful techniques administered by fraudsters with the object of making money. One of the reasons ad fraud is the plague of programmatic advertising is that it can appear in so many forms, making it difficult for a lot of the industry to identify, let alone deal with. Here are some of the types of desktop fraud we come across at Coull:

  • Automated traffic Finds botnet activity flagged on the user level through real-time traffic pattern analysis.
  • ProxyThe IP address is a known proxy.
  • SpoofingThe user’s device and browser were manipulated to resemble a different device or browser. This technique is commonly used to produce a real – life distribution of traffic and simulate traffic from multiple visitors.
  • Ad injection – The ad was locked by ad injection software, often bundled with other software like games and toolbars. This practice artificially inflates the number of ads on a page and can lead to negative user experience.
  • Cloaked domains – There is an imbalance between the domain where the ad appeared and the referring domain. This practice enables undesirable properties such as pirate and adult portals to sell inventory under a high-CPM category such as cars or travel.
  • Domain spoofing – The publisher reports an inaccurate domain to the exchange. The ad never appeared on the publisher- reported domain. This practice allows publishers to misrepresent low-quality inventory as coming from high quality sources. In some cases, ghost sites can use this technique.

What are bots?

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about R2-D2, the bots I am referring to represent non-human traffic, the most common form of ad fraud today. Fraud exists to make money illegally and as digital advertising grows, fraudsters are able to take advantage of the system. Bots can come from software applications which run automated tasks over the internet to simulate human activity. It has been estimated that 8%-23% of online video ad inventory is consumed by bot impressions which makes this a significant problem for video advertisers to contend with. (Videology)

Solution?

At Coull we utilise industry leading cyber- security services to filter and detect inappropriate content coming through the system. Our Compliance team use strategies to identify and rate any invalid traffic.  This enables us to have a multi-level process targeting ad fraud and eliminating it from our platform, manual detection being a key part in removing certain types of domain fraud, including the aforementioned ghost sites, that haunt the web.

Who you gonna call?…

So what are they ‘ghost’ sites you say? Well, they’re spooks! Ghost sites may look like ordinary web sites at first glance, however if you dig a little deeper you will uncover their dark secrets. These sinister pages exist to bypass tech filters and because they look clean and safe, tech vendors let them off the hook.

We are doing everything we can to identify ghost sites and ensure the culprits don’t get past our compliance, but there are things you can do to, and they don’t involve bringing in an exorcist. Follow the simple tips below and you will be able to spot a ghost site a mile away.

How to spot a ghost (site)

  • WordPress templates

Ghost sites typically look very similar as their templates often originate from WordPress. The templates will all have the same layout with different skins for each.

  • No contact information/web hosting information

Ghost sites more often than not have links to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest however if you click on the link they will lead to nothing or non-updated accounts. If the Facebook page has thousands of likes, it’s legitimate. Something else to look out for is that they use cheap website solutions such as ‘Garden Pages’ and will hide their presence on the internet with services like DomainsByProxy. Want to try and contact the owner? No chance as they won’t have any contact information or the information will be false.

  • Strange growth patterns

Ghost sites do not pay for their traffic growth and will buy from Click Farms.

  • Hardcoded banner ads

Banner ads on a ghost site will have a URL destination which will lead straight back to the same Ghost site. The banner ads are mostly static images making them seem like genuine advertisement however they are most probably fake.

The future

Ad fraud detection and eradication is very tricky business. Every day is like living in the Wild West with fraudsters running wild and stealing impressions left, right and centre. There is no square jawed superhero to lock them up and put an end to their tyranny but we’re working hard to change that.

Our compliance team is leading the way, stepping up to guard our marketplace from fraudulent activity. Coull has a zero tolerance policy, taking all forms of ad fraud very seriously. We are raising awareness and working with leading fraud detection vendors because we want to make the industry a fraud free place for our partners. We can weed the industry garden of fraud, we just ask for your help replanting it.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Coull Quickie – February 2016

In the Coull Quickie for February, Elise looks at the recent MWC, talks about Google AMP and Tube Mogul’s decision to refund advertisers for fraudulent ad impressions. All this and more programmatic video advertising news from February.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull video