We Play it Straight: Our Stance on Fraudulent Traffic

We’re not fans of overgeneralization, nor of oversimplification. Alex Kantrowitz’s post on ad fraud contains both. In addition, it is incredibly cynical and tars the entire industry with the same brush. Here’s a sample:

Purging fraudulent impressions from the system would mean higher media prices and lower performance (though more accurate). Fraud pumps up publishers’ traffic, exchanges get paid a percentage for trading it, buying platforms’ performance looks better because of it, and agencies can bring those great results to clients. Everyone wins!

We’re not denying that ad fraud exists in the industry. But we’ve been in business since 1999, primarily as an ad server for publishers and a partner to help them adjust to the realities of the digital world. We were there when ad fraud first began, and because our positioning depended on helping our publishers, we got busy on combatting it almost immediately.

Because, you see, fraud doesn’t pump up publishers’ traffic if advertisers won’t pay for the ads. Once again, we were early to notice that our publishers weren’t getting paid for ads that weren’t clicked on. And now they’re not getting paid for ads that aren’t viewable.

We partnered with DoubleVerify and AdXPose (now comScore), and worked with every industry group to fight spam, fraud, and malware. In fact, we had, and still have, an employee dedicated to industry efforts to professionalize ad tech and weed out the scammers. But if you take the trouble to run Ghostery on any of our publisher sites, you will still find a myriad of trackers and ad networks besides ours.

For example, the site shown below has 110 trackers of various kinds, some of which could be fraudulent. But how can you weed them out if you are honest? The answer is, you can’t. Between the marketer and the publisher are 110 entities dropping cookies, selling data, and potentially committing ad fraud.  These are all the entities in the famous Lumascape. Much traffic that hits a publisher site does not even go through our ad server, so there’s nothing we can do individually.

110 Trackers on one News Site

On our own network, we do weed out fraudulent traffic. For us, refunds for fraud traffic are a contractual obligation, as Kantrowitz suggests they should be.

“Harvard professor and ad-fraud researcher Ben Edelman suggests making refunds for fraud traffic a contractual obligation. “In practice right now, you promise to deliver it, you don’t quite deliver it, people shrug, the world moves on,” he said.”

We’re not trying to say that ad fraud doesn’t exist, or that it is not important. But we are saying that condemning the entire industry doesn’t fix the problem and just makes the people who play it straight mad.