Ads are for humans, not bots, say advertisers

Someday this may change… but, in 2016, when advertisers pay for online advertising, they still want actual humans to see those ads. Not bots. Or, as the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) puts it

Criminal organizations have attacked the digital ad ecosystem with malware that generates non-human traffic and defrauds legitimate participants… advertisers [pay] criminals who generate ad impressions that are never seen by humans.

The tab? $7.2 billion per year, according to the 2016 ANA/White Ops Bot Fraud study. Advertisers hate this and with the new TAG Certified Against Fraud Program, they’re fighting back.

TAG’s program aims to set rigorous anti-fraud requirements for buyers, sellers, and intermediaries throughout the digital advertising supply chain, and certify organizations that meet these standards.

As more participants join, advertisers can exert greater pressure on their partners to become certified, choose suppliers that do, and avoid those who don’t.

So, for example, participating advertisers and agencies must designate a compliance officer, and follow the Media Rating Council’s 30 pages of Invalid Traffic (IVT) Detection and Filtration Guidelines. MRC seeks to identify and independently audit organizations for a laundry list of invalid traffic, including:

…difficult to detect situations that require advanced analytics, multi-point corroboration/coordination, significant human intervention, etc., to analyze and identify.

The guidelines form a rather impressive document – but, as PC World notes, MRC still:

…counts an ad as viewable if as little as half of it appears on screen for as little as one second. It counts video ads as viewed as long as at least half the ad is visible and at least two seconds of video is played.

Advertising sellers such as ad networks, publishers, and their agents need to follow all the requirements that apply to buyers, and also filter against databases of data centers and domains known to originate fraudulent traffic. Plus, according to Advertising Age, applicants will soon have to undergo background checks:

Once approved, each will receive a unique ID that will identify its ads to trading partners… [identifiers] can also be matched with the payment ID system to verify that payments aren’t going to criminals.

Someone has to pay for all this infrastructure – according to AdAge, an advertising technology company might need to invest $20,000 per year to get and stay certified. Still, the program launches with more than 30 participants.

That includes huge ad agencies like Interpublic Group, Publicis Worldwide, Omnicom Group, and WPP; as well as global media companies such as News Corp and Yahoo – folks who can probably afford it. However, several big names are notable by their absence, according to PC Worldstep forward Google and Facebook.

TAG’s voluntary program probably won’t be foolproof. Still, advertisers have been easy marks in the “wild west” online advertising business for years, and those days seem to be ending.

The ways things are going, the fraudsters may need to become as creative as the advertisers they’re victimizing.