Challenges of Non-Viewability in the Online Advertising Ecosphere $6.3 Billion worth of Non-Human Ad-Traffic Last year, according to the UK Financial Times newspaper, a Mercedes-Benz on-line advertising campaign was viewed more often by automated computer programs than by human beings. In fact, it was estimated that only 43% of the ad impressions were viewed by humans. The ads were inadvertently placed onto fraudulent websites by Rocket Fuel, a Nasdaqlisted ad technology company that went public with a market capitalization of nearly $1bn. The suspicious traffic was discovered in an investigation for Mercedes-Benz by a UK company that specializes in detecting ad fraud. In a sample of 365,000 ad impressions brokered by Rocket Fuel, over three weeks, the company found that 57%were "viewed" by automated computer programs rather than real human audience. The company stated it had traced the ownership of the bot network to UK based websites, which have since disappeared. While there was no suggestion that Rocket Fuel, which acted as an intermediary between advertisers and online publishers, was aware that it was delivering its client’s ads to fraudsters, this incident reflected poorly on Rocket Fuel, which asserted in its website that it "makes sure the 'bad actors' always leave empty-handed". Subsequently, Google made a similar announcement when it stated that its research showed that 56.1% of ads served on the Internet are never "in view". According to a recent report published by the Association of National Advertisers (the ANA), 30% of all programmatic media buys could be fraudulent, involving up to 10-15% of all digital ad spend. This means that advertisers could collectively lose $6.3 billion to nonhuman traffic in 2015 alone. The report suggests that non-human sources are responsible for 11% of all display ad views, 23% of video ad views, and 52% of all third-party source web traffic. What is Non-Viewability? The online advertising landscape is plagued by a surge of impression and traffic fraud – an illegal activity which is used to exploit the ecosystem and generate revenues for fake or non-human traffic (which does not generate real conversion or purchases). Traffic and impression fraud may be manifested in various ways, which are rapidly evolving in tandem with the expansion of new ad formats. The methods may run on organic user traffic (such as hidden ad impression, tiny iFrames, "under the fold" adverts or "popunders") or generate artificial traffic using fraudulent means (such as bots), targeting multiple business models ranging from CPM deals (impression spam) to CPC deals (click inflation), and may be perpetrated by all tiers in the media supply chain: publishers (attempting to generate more revenue or obtain higher value ads) and advertisers (attempting to deplete their rival's advertising budget). A growing concern of our clients relates to placement of adverts on non "brand safe" properties (e.g. adult or pirated content), and misrepresentation of the publisher's content. These problems are promulgated due to the lack of overarching checks and effective quality controls between the vast array of interconnected members involved in the ad supply chain: ad networks and agencies, ad servers, ad verification companies, measurement vendors, data management platforms, audience buying exchanges and more, which perform a host of activities (for example personalization, measurement, analyzing effectiveness, etc.). Taken together, these concerns account for billions of dollars in wasted money for the entire digital advertising ecosystem, advertisers and publisher alike. The challenges noted above may be perpetrated through: False ad views or clicks; Traffic artificial inflation (e.g. by click spam or impression stuffing); Hidden ad impression (e.g. ad stacking, pixel stuffing, tiny iFrames, etc.); Robotic traffic or bots (running scripts that simulate human behavior); Coercion and Incentivized traffic; Video fraud (e.g. running above the fold in a muted 1x1 iframe); URL redirects of DNS poisoning; Adware or Illicit ad injection (impression data for injected ad inventory flow to third parties which have no affiliation with the publishers' sites on which the ads are displayed); Misrepresentation (e.g. misrepresenting the website content by spoofing the referring URL, keyword stuffing); And many, many more… The Challenge for the Entire Ad Supply Chain As the online advertising maintains an increasingly dominant presence in the digital sphere, the inflation of fraud and non-viewability exposes all tiers of the ad supply chain to new and potentially significant challenges and threats. From the buying media side – it leads to brands wasting media spending and diverts payments on ad campaigns which do not generate conversion or purchases, as they are served to invisible inventory; From the selling media side – it leads to an artificial inflation of your inventory, diluting the value of your inventory (including legitimate-human inventory) and generally, degrading the quality of your properties (the brand will look elsewhere for their marketing solutions, and advertisers offset the cost of fraud, non-viewability, and unsafe environments by degrading the rates). From all sides – it contaminates and undermines campaign performance analysis and compromises the integrity of the entire online ecosystem, which invites negative press that undermines confidence in digital media as well as potential intervention or oversight by government regulators, or other business-dampening enforcement measures. Addressing the Challenges As the vulnerability of the ad supply chain to potential fraud rises it compromises the integrity of the ecosystem and deflects advertising revenue and ROI for the entire digital advertising ecosystem, more and more actors in the digital marketplace are contemplating how to adequately safeguard their digital investments from such attacks. In particular, companies are contemplating what organizational, technological and legal measures or practices can be adopted, and how to ensure traffic quality and place adequate checks in their ad supply chain (“Know Your Partner/Client practices”). The rapid and continued explosion of fraud also raises particular considerations within the RTB environment. As there is no "one-size-fit-all" solution for the different tiers in the ad supply chain (numerous factors, including for example, the nature of the company, the campaign and the trade platform, must all be taken into account), the appropriate tools must be acquired to understand the variety of situations that may lead to outflow of funds to fraudsters. These tools range from: Developing and managing anti-fraud policies and procedures for your traffic supply chain partners ; Developing dispute resolution mechanisms customized for different campaigns (CPI, CPM, etc.) and different trade platforms (RBT, etc.); Developing, monitoring, troubleshooting and audit mechanisms to address traffic and impression fraud; Drafting contracts and provisions which will adopt the adequate measures; Developing practical internal guidelines for quality assurance; Various technologies dedicated for fraud detection, validation and prevention solutions are also being introduced. They range from real-time detection and blocking of fraudulent web traffic using semantic filters, page-level scoring, anomaly-detection tools that recognize unusual traffic patterns more likely to be bot traffic than human analysis of links between web sites, real time reputation forensics, bot activity detectors, programmatic blocking solution, image analysis, and human scoring, as well as databases of fraudulent web sites and content page analysis to ensure control and media quality, brand safety and optimal ROI. Whatever practices you adopt, you must remain diligent and continue to seek out the expertise to defeat the bad actors that are intent on hijacking the system and defrauding legitimate businesses.