Ad Verification Firm Pivots to Bot Detection

Integral Science says its can stop fake traffic in real time

Suddenly, the anti-bots business is booming.

Last week, a company called White Ops announced aggressive plans to target what the company claims are crooks stealing more than $6.5 billion from advertisers. Another company loaded with the requisite roster of data scientists, Mdot Labs, says it's helping tons of big-name brands catch bad guys using bots and the like to siphon their online ad budgets.

Now, Integral Ad Science is getting into the game, with a product the company says can stop bot traffic before it happens—using predictive technology that sounds like something out of Minority Report or Person of Interest

Integral Ad Science was born as AdSafe media, one of a slew of companies that arrived on the scene a few years ago under the umbrella term ad verification. Like Double Verify, AdSafe raised venture dollars promising to help brands stay off nonbrand-friendly sites. Late last year, AdSafe became Integral Ad Science, moving past just brand safety toward online ad pricing and gauging ad traffic quality.

Speaking of traffic quality, Integral Ad Science estimates that 20 percent of display ads traded in exchanges are bogus, and the numbers are increasingly getting worse when it comes to video. According to CEO Scott Knoll, "Ad fraud has been around a while, but it's kind of reached a tipping point. Awareness has changed in the last six months."

Knoll says that display and video ad fraud are much harder to catch, given the fragmentation in the industry and its slowness to get a handle on the issue. "It was easy in early days of click fraud," he said. "Google and others kind of killed it. You've given the industry eight years to game the system."

Integral Science says it can stop the games before they ever start. The company's new fraud detection tool rather than catching bot activity after it's already commenced works on a browser level to stop it from ever happening. In other words, the company claims it can pick up when a bogus ad impression is about to be sold and avoid buying it in the first place—rather than waiting for it to happen and then stopping it.

"With many of the current solutions, you let people steal from you, to catch them, then assume they’ll steal from the same place," said Knoll. "We actually send [the bad ad impression] back to the network, exchange or site." It's not just advertisers that can benefit. Per Knoll, publishers can use this tool to get a handle on whether all the traffic they sell is legit and avoid trying to sell it. That way, publishers with good intentions could theoretically avoid those dreaded blacklists

Sounds great. But who says that Integral Ad Science can actually pull that off? And why would they be better at this than anybody else? Knoll says the company is best positioned to attack the bad traffic/bot issue simply because of the sheer amount of data it monitors. "We see two bill[ion] impressions a day," he said. "That lets us pick up on patterns. We have more bodies than anyone else looking at this."