Sen. Mark Warner Expresses ‘Grave Concerns’ About Digital Ad Fraud in Letter to the FTC

It's his second missive to the agency in 2 months

Warner continues to show concern over digital ad fraud. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission today expressing “grave concerns” over the agency’s slow response to investigating digital ad fraud.

In his letter to FTC Commissioner Joseph Simmons, Warner, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the FTC’s reply to a previous letter he sent in late October detailing the growth of digital ad fraud. Warner’s most recent letter comes just a week after an indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice that led to several arrests in a scheme allegedly worth more than $30 million in stolen ad revenue.

Warner said the digital ad market has become “largely dominated” by one company—namely, Google—and blamed the FTC for its enforcement decisions. He said Google’s dominance of the market give it “minimal” financial incentive to improve the digital ecosystem.

“While the company controls each link in the supply chain and therefore maintains the power to monitor activity in the digital advertising market from start to finish, it has continued to be caught flat-footed in identifying and addressing digital ad fraud,” Warner wrote. “As we’ve seen in other contexts—such as the rampant proliferation of online disinformation—major platforms including Google have often proved unwilling to address misuse of their platforms until brought to the wider public’s attention by Congress or media outlets.”

Warner’s letter comes in response to a Nov. 19 letter from the FTC, which said the agency shares his concerns about bot fraud but did not offer any specific action to be taken, instead merely providing definitions of what are considered “deceptive” and “unfair” practices.

Though Warner said Google has been unable to curb digital ad fraud, Google was one of dozens of companies that collaborated with the DOJ on its most recent ad-fraud investigation.

Google did not immediately offer comment about the letter. However, in an interview late last month about the investigation, the company said the groups committing ad fraud have grown more sophisticated.

Other investigations are still already underway. The cybercrime company Devcon said it’s investigating dozens of other ad-fraud networks and has already passed along its findings to the FBI.

Warner’s letter comes less than a week before Google CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee and discuss the company’s data collection practices and use. Pichai is also expected to answer questions about allegations of Google’s anti-conservative bias, of which there has so far been no evidence.

The follow-up letter to the FTC is also notable as lawmakers consider whether or not to pursue legislation that would regulate the largest internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon, to monitor their data practices and prevent foreign interference on their platforms.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.