Digital Ad Fraud

Digital Ad Fraud

The seedy underbelly of the online advertising industry

By Peter Marsh, NEWSCYCLE Solutions, Vice President of Marketing

December 22, 2014

Ad-Fraud-Blog-ImageYou can’t monetize what you can’t measure. Everybody knows that. It’s why publishers and advertisers strive to get meaningful metrics that gauge audience engagement and accurately measure the success of online ad campaigns.

But, did you know that over a third of all traffic to media company websites is fake? The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently found that 36 percent of people clicking on digital ads are not human at all. The visitors are “bots”, the product of computers hijacked by fraudsters and programmed to visit sites.

Bot fraud is rampant in all forms of online advertising – web, mobile, social, video – but the problem is especially troubling for news media publishers, where trust and credibility are key to the longstanding relationships between advertisers, audiences and media company brands.

Simply put, digital ad fraud means that advertisers are paying for impressions that appear to be served to real audiences, but are actually “seen” only by computers. Millions of ad impressions are generated every day that are never seen by a human. In one recent case reported by the Financial Times, Mercedes Benz ran an online ad campaign where 57 percent of the impressions were viewed by automated computer programs rather than real people.

Fraudsters use lots of tricks to deceive advertisers and unsuspecting computer users alike, with the goal of illegitimately making money from online ad campaigns. Here’s how it might happen:

1. An innocent computer user, let’s call him Dave, turned on his computer one day and perhaps visited a random site and clicked on a compromised link, or maybe he ran a “certified and safe” cleanup program.

2. At that moment, a fraudulent bot engine was quietly installed on Dave’s computer. (This same thing happened to thousands of innocent Daves on computers, tablets and even mobile devices all over the world.)

3. Later that day, without Dave’s knowledge, the bot engine began communicating with a botnet center located anywhere from Altadena to Zagreb. Dave’s computer was turned into a zombie, and his bot was instructed to visit certain sites in a certain sequence and at a certain frequency.

4. This is the really scary part. The botnet center was so sophisticated that it instructed Dave’s bot to visit high-value audience sites, including news media websites, in order to profile Dave as an ideal candidate for advertisers.

5. Dave’s bot was also programmed to go to sites that promote themselves as “advertising impression storefronts” that drive “real unique visitors.”

6. Website owners and ad networks need to drive traffic, so they purchase impressions from these storefront sites. In reality, these sites are owned by the botnet fraudsters, who collect the money, then send traffic through the nodes in the bot network (like Dave’s computer) and serve ads on pages that are never seen by human beings.

A scary scenario indeed. What’s even scarier is that the digital ad fraud problem is bound to grow as the trend toward greater programmatic buying and selling increases. By removing the human element from direct ad sales, the fraudsters will inevitably find more opportunities to deceive.

So, what’s a publisher to do in order to combat bot fraud? The very good news here is that organizations like the IAB and the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) are taking proactive steps to help publishers, advertisers and technology companies in their quest to eliminate digital ad fraud. Admittedly, both organizations liken these efforts to playing whack-a-mole – eliminate ad fraud in one area and it quickly pops up in another. Still, the following guidelines for media publishers provide some useful and immediate action items to defeat the fraudsters.

These efforts will help publishers preserve the trust and integrity of their valuable ad inventories:

• As a publisher, you must educate yourself about ad traffic fraud.
• Monitor and vet all traffic sources to ensure the highest quality traffic to your sites. Pay close attention to those sources that are compensated for bringing traffic to websites.
• Only trust business partners that have earned trust. The IAB calls this “practicing safe sourcing.” Technology can be implemented to help detect and prevent fraud. In addition, traffic to media sites can be filtered through third-party vendors who specialize in fraud detection.
• Policies and procedures should be adopted to help eliminate low-level ad fraud. One example of this, according to the IAB, is “comparing impression volumes to audience sizes reported by third-party measurement services.”
• Include the right to audit in all agreements with traffic providers.
• Get involved with – and become certified with – the IAB’s Quality Assurance Guidelines and other fraud initiatives, including the Traffic of Good Intent Task Force, which offers a framework for best practices that promote brand safety and trust.

Finally, publishers and advertisers alike dearly want to measure the actual impact of ad campaigns. No one wants results that are diluted by ads that never have a chance of being viewed by human eyeballs. Better measurement provides greater justification for advertisers to shift budgets to the quality digital inventory that media companies can offer.

Therefore, publishers need to set clear objectives that focus on measurements of true ROI, which is difficult for botnet fraudsters to falsify. Metrics based on click-through rates, completion rates, and last-touch attribution alone are weak because these can be easily faked by fraudulent bot agents. On the other hand, impressions that are fully validated will better align the goals of advertisers and publishers with those of consumers. This, in turn, will lead to a better digital experience that respects all audience members and delivers higher quality rather than higher quantity.

To learn more about Newscycle’s premium workflow solutions for securely managing all print and online advertising, please visit

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Why? Okay, but seriously, why?

By Aaron Kuehn, NEWSCYCLE Solutions, QA Automation Engineer

December 15, 2014

magnifying-glassWhat are you doing? Yes, you, what are you doing and why are you doing it?

Organizations are built around tasks, routines, workflows and processes. We need these structures to get work done. But do we ever ask why? Do we question our processes, audit them, and make them earn their keep?

We are often forced to ask “why” due to outside forces. Adapting to change causes us to step out of the lane we’re in. Sometimes we step into oncoming traffic, sometimes into a faster lane and sometimes we end up in the ditch.

What if we routinely look at the whys (wise!) of our processes? What if we examine our work absent any external disruption? I believe the results of such an introspection are greater efficiency, less confusion, more effective training, more nimble teams and more capacity!

What if management expected teams to look at their processes and ask why? What if someone from outside the process, either a vendor, a consultant or someone from another area of the organization, asked and tried to learn the reasons behind each step in the workflow?

A great way to get started is to think about documenting your processes. Documenting workflows has many benefits. It helps everyone to understand the big picture. When new team members come on board they have accurate documentation to explain how the work is done. When Mary is out sick, Bob may be able to refer to some documentation and pitch in. Similarly for those processes that don’t happen regularly, documentation helps to ensure it gets done consistently when the need arises.

I once worked on a project to move a newsroom’s production system to a new, integrated system. The implementation team thought we were doing a great job of adapting workflows to take advantage of the strengths of the new system. When finished we patted ourselves on our backs and moved on to new challenges.

Later, I was working with a page designer and noticed several initials at the top of the story he was working on. They were the initials of the copy editors who had edited the story. Why were users putting their initials at the top of stories? The new system had a built-in track changes feature that kept track of all of the changes made to a story. Each story had an edit trail so with a keystroke any user could go back through each version and see who had made changes to a story.

Finally, the Adobe applications we used had Notes Mode which users loved — all notes were individually tracked by user and time. Why did this workflow persist? The most common answer was that if someone wanted to discuss a change with the person who made it, they needed to know with whom to talk. Okay. That made perfect sense. But what about the capabilities of the new system?

Don’t overlook automated processes. Automation is great, but what if you can simplify, remove points of failure, make processes easier to understand and maintain?

Also consider the software that you already own. Engage with your vendor or attend a user group to ensure you’re taking advantage of the tools at your fingertips.

I once worked with a team that was trying to refine their photographer’s workflow. They had a variety of tools for writing captions and doing FTP transfers. What we learned was that Adobe Bridge did it all and they already owned Adobe Bridge. They could eliminate a half dozen other programs and simplify the workflow. This also made it easier for the I.T. department to provision computers. It also was a cross-platform solution: the workflow was the same for Mac or Windows users.

Accumulated efficiencies can give teams incrementally more capacity. That’s the flexibility to be nimble when a big story breaks. You improve your ability to cover for sickness and vacation.

You won’t realize any savings if you don’t look for them. Let’s get started!

  1. Pick a workflow. Small or large; technical or manual; internal or public-facing, pick something!
  2. Select a team. Comprise the team of people who use the workflow every day as well as at least one person who is outside the loop. It may be easier for the outsider to ask the “Whys?” and they are less likely to make assumptions. Assumptions can lead you down just as many dark alleys as a bad process itself.
  3. Give the team a pep-talk! It’s okay if they come out of the process without any changes. But they need to review it step-by-step.
  4. The team needs to deliver a workflow document at the end. Include in the document the names of those making key decisions. For example if Lindsay determines that all images need a copyright statement in their IPTC header, that note should be in the document so there’s no question who made that decision. If significant changes to the existing workflow are recommended by the team, they may want to consider a workflow map that explains “this is how we used to do it” and “this is how we will do it.”
  5. Almost as important is to not let all of this work and documentation stagnate. Set a regular review period on all of the documents produced. Use any mechanism that makes sense, but regularly review the documentation, perhaps annually, and ask the “whys” again! Maybe something has changed. Maybe new software has been introduced. Maybe you’re doing something nobody needs any longer. Maybe you’re doing something that actually impairs the work of another team but they don’t know it can be changed.

Then repeat the process for other teams and workflows.

Don’t wait for a truck to be barreling down on you, forcing you to make changes. Proactively make the investment. The findings almost certainly will surprise you!

That’s why!


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If it’s Tuesday this must be Poughkeepsie

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Poughkeepsie

(You’re not in Kansas anymore when the road kill is moose)

By Lisa Speth, NEWSCYCLE Solutions, Marketing Communications Manager

December 1, 2014

If-its-tuesday-blog-imageFrom sea to shining sea, the United States is a brilliant array of wide-open skies, wide-open spaces and wide-open opinions. Traveling through this great nation is nothing less than an exciting adventure.

For all this country’s vast diversity, however, sometimes it all looks the same. A recent road-trip has allowed me to experience the grandeur of the East and the beautiful states in the Southwest. But two weeks on the road—city to city, town to town, and face-to-face with nameless Wal-mart associates and gas station attendants can make the locations run together.

Sometimes the only difference from one place to the next is the road kill.

In my home state of Utah, the morning driver can expect a range of overnight roadside animal fatalities. Deer, skunk, cat, and raccoon are famous for not quite making the party on the other side of the road. Less nocturnal gallivanting creatures- dogs, cows (yes, it happens), and pygmy goats are also candidates for a tar-based final resting spot. On trips I have made to Florida I noticed the turtle and occasional snake had bitten the dust. When in Texas, it was the armadillo.

Fact is, there is always a light going out somewhere to the sound of screeching tires.

Over the years, America’s news industry has enjoyed growing pains and lived through reductions in force. Rather than be left roadside, it has changed from hand-written notes to instant global distribution of critical details. But one thing hasn’t changed. The world craves news.
If you’re in the news industry, terms like “adaptation” and “transformation” are on your mind and in your meetings. Publishers know their sustainable pulse relies on a “multidimensional audience-centric business model” and the ability to embrace innovative ideas and put them to work.

Understanding the news as a living, breathing and drivable entity is vital to the success of any news vehicle. Knowing to target readers as individuals with varied interests and activities—rather than mere occupants in Zip codes—can make the difference between success and obsolescence. Your audience wants to choose the content that interests them, the products you present to them, and the way you deliver both to them.

Life as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore. No longer can we sit in the evenings on the front porch swing and read the afternoon edition of the newspaper for all of our news. The world is too fast and too small, and it is our responsibility to create new nostalgia for future generations. So grab your mobile—and post, tweet, like and share.

Drive—let’s face it. We’d rather be behind the wheel than under the tires.

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