November 17, 2015 Last Updated 9:46 am

Gaps still exist in Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) plan to fight ad fraud

Guest Column: Jay Friedman, chief operating officer of programmatic ad tech firm, Goodway Group, writes that TAG’s two-pronged initiative designed to combat ad fraud still leaves concerns to be addressed

The New York-based Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) recently announced a two-pronged plan to fight ad fraud in the digital space. Despite the backing of some heavy hitters in the media today such as AOL, Google and the five largest advertising holding companies, the plan still leaves a couple of common sense considerations which need to be addressed.

What the TAG Strategy Proposes
The proposal to combat ad fraud in the digital space consists of two key initiatives, designed to work in concert with one another much like a two-step authentication process:

  • The TAG Registry – legitimate advertisers and publishers will pay a fee of $10,000 annually for the privilege of having their ad inventory marked as authentic and not the output of unscrupulous advertisers.
  • Payments – In cooperation with leading programmatic providers, a Payment ID service would be established. This Payment ID system produces a file of which entities get paid per impression—preventing fraudsters from profiting.

Of the two proposed initiatives, the TAG Registry is now open, however the Payment ID system is a work in progress.

Too Steep a Price to Pay?
Any programmatic firm that values its reputation in the industry has an innate understanding of the value of trustworthy ecosystems. However, by my estimation, a plan that costs hundreds or thousands of parties $10,000 each isn’t necessarily a sound or effective strategy in fighting digital ad fraud.

Most industry analysts agree that the biggest challenge in digital ad fraud currently comes from bot traffic. The $10,000 certification price tag doesn’t solve this issue and claiming to address it by verifying payment seems functionally problematic.

To illustrate my point, suppose I’m the owner of a legitimate fan blog about the Green Bay Packers, boasting over 50,000 visitors a month, yet I’m an expat living in a part of the world where a lot of bot traffic comes from. Does that now put my site in the ‘high-risk’ category? Taking it a step further, what if, as the owner of the blog, I simply can’t afford to pay the $10,000 fee for certification?

Solving the problem of bot traffic should be our No. 1 priority, however this plan either places a million small publishers at a severe disadvantage—or even worse—out of business altogether. Conversely, we know that lots of bots are nothing more than spoofed users. In solving this, are we going to put CAPTCHA requirements on every page of the World Wide Web just to make sure it’s a real user who should be viewing an ad? User certification seems to be the most important factor in play, but it’s next to impossible to truly verify. And this is why it remains a pressing problem throughout the industry.

Is Ad Fraud Really as Bad as it Seems?
If you read the current headlines, it’s “there are billions of dollars being lost to digital ad fraud and everyone should panic.” However, when you dig into it deeper, the fraud is actually highly concentrated. This article, for instance, starts out pretty scary. Then you realize three sources are responsible for 77 percent of this problem. The same is true in display and video ads. Most exchanges and SSPs are really clean. There are a few where it’s concentrated, and while those names aren’t published anywhere, they’re well known in off-the-record conversations at industry conferences. Most of us just don’t buy ads against that inventory.

Media buyers for digital advertising do know where their ads will run – if they’re working with the right programmatic partner. Today, any good programmatic firm will share every piece of data they have with their brand partners to make it a true collaborate effort. Real ROI exists, and lift in consumer behavior and purchases on exposed users compared to a control can be proven. Most publishers and advertisers get into trouble when they insist on measurement being perfect, or holding different media channels to different standards. All advertising and each media channel contributes to product sales. Because it’s impossible to control for all but one variable at any given time, marketers tend to get frustrated with their inability to know “for sure.”

Friedman-158As a result of this frustration, they go with what they personally believe works the best. The results of that focus group of one person (meaning the marketer) wastes more money than every other digital media “problem” combined.

Jay Friedman is the COO of Goodway Group, a managed-services programmatic partner to local, regional, and Fortune 500 brand agencies. He is also the author of ’30 Days to Digital Media Expertise and 30 Days to Digital,’ available through Amazon and Scribd.

  • Mike Zaneis 2 years ago

    Jay, while I’m disappointed that you did not reach out to anyone at TAG to discuss these issues before writing this piece, I have to blame myself as the CEO of the organization that a participating TAG IQG company such as Goodway Group has such a fundamental misunderstanding of the various programs that we have released. I would be happy to discuss with you and the leadership at Goodway that the Verified by TAG program is fundamentally about supply chain transparency; that none of the announced TAG anti-fraud tools are based upon geolocation data, but rather actual observed levels of non-human, fraudulent traffic; and that we have very publicly promoted our small business exception (i.e. zero cost for small publishers). Clearly there has been a breakdown in communication (or you failed to accurately read the dozens of news reports about these announcements or the recent person emails I’ve sent to our participants), so I’d encourage you to participate in the IQG townhall that we have scheduled for next week to discus these topics. Either way, I’m sure we can rectify your confusion as to what is actually occurring within TAG and the industry at large.

    Yours truly,

    Mike Zaneis
    CEO of TAG

  • Mikko Kotila 2 years ago

    “Most exchanges and SSPs are really clean”

    …is materially wrong. Also even if it was not, nobody would know as there is no party in the world who has a comprehensive view of how ad fraud takes place. If you think that it’s right, can you please provide the evidence you are making your assumption based on.

    Also I agree with Mike in the sense that the right way at this point in time to provide critique for wider industry programs is through private exchange and participation first, and then in due time through public channels. The whole lot of us might disagree about many things, because we all understand the problem in different ways. But unless there is a sensible way for working together and communicating effectively regardless of our disagreements, all we’ll end up doing is sensationalising a very serious topic. Once sensationalised, as opposed to driving decision making, all we’ll end up doing is attracting more criminals to ad fraud.