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Ad Fraud Remains a Moving Target

Suspicious traffic still accounting for a good chunk of ad volume

Since the inception of online advertising, there has been fraud. Though the industry has made gains over the years to combat this nonhuman web traffic through the use of ad verification tools and other ad-serving auditors, findings suggest a significant portion of display ad impressions are still fraudulent.

Research by fraud detection company Solve Media found that over six in every 10 impressions served online in the US in Q4 2013 were done so to suspicious, nonhuman agents. This number was up from 44% in Q1 2013—and more than twice as high as mobile-served ads (25%).

“Every time the industry makes a big step in helping with fraud, something else comes up,” Erin Pennington, executive vice president of media for digital advertising agency Moxie, told eMarketer. “It’s just one of these exacerbating deals.” She noted that for many agencies and brands, fraud isn’t just about wasted ad spend: Its presence also results in wasted resources, as these companies must devote headcount and expertise to policing such suspicious activity.

“It becomes a larger issue of making sure we have enough resources to protect client ad spend,” Pennington said. “And it’s frustrating when these resources are just chasing something that’s constantly getting redefined.”

But additional findings from ad verification solutions provider Integral Ad Science painted a much more optimistic picture of the state of ad fraud in H2 2013. The portion of exchange-based ads served that were flagged for suspicious activity fell from 20% in H1 2013 to 13% in H2 2013, and network-specific activity declined from 20% to 15%. Publisher-direct activity stayed the same at a mere 2%.

Such strong divergence in the percentages reported from the two data sources makes it somewhat difficult for advertisers and publishers to quantify just how much of their traffic can be attributed to suspicious activities. Differences in the types of publishers vetted and the methodologies for doing so are just two factors that might be responsible for such a wide gap.

But in spite of their differences, the industry should look to use these numbers as a guide for the general range of suspicious activity publishers and media buyers might expect. Both would be wise to consider the deployment of some form of a fraud detection solution to protect both their wallets and their brand integrity.

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