Ad Fraud Is Down, But Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Bot Baseline report scanned billions of impressions across thousands of sites

As ad tech marches forward, scammers have a harder time gaming the system. Getty Images

When it comes to ad fraud, here’s a little ray of sunshine: It seems to be on the decline.

That bold claim comes courtesy of the fourth annual Bot Baseline report, which the cybersecurity pros at White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers released today. The report, which encompasses 600,000 domains and 2,4000 ad campaigns with 27 billion impressions among them, estimates global advertisers will lose $5.8 billion this year, down from $6.5 billion in 2017.

“This report represents a qualified success,” White Ops president and co-founder Michael Tiffany told Adweek. “I mean, $5.8 billion is still $5.8 billion, and every cent that goes to fraud is one that’s taken away from someone doing the hard work of getting real human engagement, not just advertisers but app developers and content creators.”

Tiffany credits the decline in fraud to a few industry trends: ads.txt adoption (which continues to grow across the web), recent transparency initiatives introduced by major ad-tech players and the first real consequences for people involved in ad fraud.

For the first time, the majority of fraud attempts are getting stymied before they’re paid for thanks to ad-tech players—DSPs and SSPs—baking advanced antifraud measures directly into their software and cutting down on the manual work those on the marketing side need to pour into their media buys, according to the report.

Not only that, but the overall bot-traffic landscape is harder to game in 2018, Tiffany said. While fraudsters are still able to buy traffic, social media giants have cracked down hard on some of the less sophisticated iterations. As a result, bot sellers across the board have either scaled back their operations or gone off the map altogether.

And because the market is smaller, that means the traffic that does get snatched up will be more expensive, thereby making the business of fraud less profitable overall. As Tiffany explained it, when prices for traffic go up, their resulting profits go down.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the constant doom and gloom of the ad-tech sector.

“If you’re still alive and kicking in 2019, almost by definition, you’re a top survivor or some kind of super predator,” Tiffany said. “So the fight will get harder from here.”

@swodinsky Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.