62% of all digital ad fraud occurs on mobile advertising, which is the dominant type of digital advertising in India
By Nachiket Deole
From mobile users to app downloads, both the volume and growth of the Indian digital advertising ecosystem now exceeds most other countries. Moreover, the widespread availability of smartphones and internet services has enabled businesses to reach their customers directly on their mobile devices. According to a recent TRAI report, the number of internet subscribers in India increased to over 743 million at the end of March 2020, clocking a growth rate of 3.4% on a sequential-quarter basis. This upward trend of digital transformation has propelled organisations to take a more assertive approach towards building business resiliency and leveraging digital marketing.
As per the latest GroupM report, digital advertising spend is expected to be at Rs 27,700 crore, 28% higher than last year. This is further accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has prompted businesses to pivot towards online advertising to establish a stronger online presence and improve their customer acquisition efforts. Unfortunately, the increase in mobile ad spend coupled with the complexity of today’s digital ad ecosystem, has created an environment that is extremely attractive to fraudsters. In fact, based on the MMA India report, 62% of all digital ad fraud occurs on mobile advertising, which is the dominant type of digital advertising in India.
Understanding Ad Fraud
Ad fraud, or invalid traffic (IVT), is the act of representing online advertising impressions, clicks, conversions, or data events, in fraudulent ways, in order to generate revenue. It significantly impacts an advertiser’s return on media investment, often jeopardising brand reputation. Primarily, there are three types of ad fraud.
- Bot Fraud
Identification of users exhibiting abnormal/unachievable browsing behaviors and patterns.
Identification of irregular machine characteristics / spoofed browser information.
- CTV and Mobile App Fraud
Identification of spoofed traffic originating from fraudulent practices by the operator of the CTV channel/ mobile app, including, but not limited to, indications of impression laundering, hidden ads, non-human traffic, stacked and hidden Ads, or nonhuman bot traffic.
Identification may include reverse Engineering of app code to identify if it engages in impression manipulation behavior, simulated app traffic in a sandbox environment to observe operational behavior, etc.
- Site fraud
Identification of spoofed traffic originating from fraudulent practices by the operator of the site, including, but not limited to, indications of impression laundering, hidden ads, non-human traffic, stacked and hidden ads, or non-human bot traffic.
Before advertisers can identify and prevent fraud, they first need to recognize how it is reported. IVT refers to both unsophisticated and sophisticated activities and is further divided into two sub-categories:
General Invalid Traffic (GIVT) – is served to devices/in environments that are invalid based on standardised industry lists or filtration methodologies. GIVT can include neutral and fraudulent activity.
Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) – is more difficult to detect and requires advanced analytics, multi-point corroboration/coordination and significant human intervention to analyse and identify. SIVT activity is intentionally fraudulent.
In order to combat fraud, we recommend advertisers to engage third-party verification providers with dedicated resources that can be as responsive as the bad actors themselves.
Tips to Prevent Ad Fraud
It is important to ensure that digital ads are safe and authentic. Here are a few tips on how users and organisations can prevent ad fraud:
- Engage a third-party verification provider – As digital ad fraud continues to pose a threat; advertisers must do a health check on their campaigns and identify fraud on a real-time basis. At DoubleVerify, we use machine-learning models that are fed a verified set of known fraudulent patterns curated by a team of data scientists that are used to “train” their models. The automated models then assess risk for every device, impression and app/site observed online to rapidly identify new infections.
This AI-based approach complements DV’s purely deterministic methodology to identify instances of fraud, resulting in a robust and comprehensive solution — and a definitive “Yes/No” output to fraud identification.
- Understanding fraud and its techniques as an industry – Fighting ad fraud has its limitations, and this is where the industry must come together to take responsibility and create awareness about this growing issue. Resources and publications from various accredited industry bodies, such as the IAB SEA + India Guide to Ad Fraud and MMA India’s Annual Fraud Report are great tools for advertisers to understand the types of ad fraud that are impacting the Indian market. These resources can help advertisers stay abreast of the latest fraud schemes and receive guidance on how to further safeguard their digital advertising campaigns.
- Invest in quality inventory – Understanding where ads are placed is as important as the message your ads are sending. Ensuring high-quality placements is key to combating fraud. Very often, low-quality sites can become breeding grounds for fraud. It is, hence, essential that one works closely with publishers and/or programmatic platforms who have their inventory checked by ad verification providers to ensure that the traffic sources are verified.
Also, industry bodies like The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), the leading global initiative fighting criminal activity and increasing trust in the digital advertising industry, works collaboratively with companies throughout the digital ad supply chain to issue the “Verified By TAG” badge. Once a company is a partner of TAG, advertisers can feel more confident that these publishers have taken actionable steps to verify their identities and adopt rigorous standards to fight online fraud, piracy, malware and lack of transparency in their inventory.
As digital ad spend in India grows, ad fraud will continue to affect brands and advertisers across industries. The advertising ecosystem in India will have to come together to build a safe and transparent environment, and also invest in ad verification providers to ensure they have the right resources to protect their brands.
The author is head of sales – India, DoubleVerify