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Nick Stringer - Vice President of Global Engagement & Operations, Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) Marketing

Tackling Criminal Activity in Digital Advertising

Tackling criminal activity in digital advertising – such as fraud and piracy - is one of the industry’s greatest challenges. As advertisers continue to invest in digital, it is important that it is a trusted and effective medium to ensure that brands can find new customers and communicate with existing ones.

It is believed that advertisers are now collectively losing a significant amount of money each year through criminal ad fraud, as well as other activities such as malware and ad-supported piracy. In the US, research in 2015 by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Ernst & Young found that advertisers were losing over $8bn a year.

And it is an ongoing challenge: on 27 November 2018, the US Department of Justice announced criminal charges related to one of the most complex and sophisticated ad fraud operations ever seen to date. 3ve – nicknamed ‘Eve’ - manipulated and controlled more than one million IP addresses ranging from botnet infections to corporate domains primarily in North America and Europe.

The Trustworthy Accountability Group: A Cross-Industry Self-Regulatory Approach

This is why the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) – an international cross-industry self-regulatory programme aimed at tackling criminal activity in digital advertising, such as fraud, malware and ad-supported piracy - was established in 2014.

TAG seeks to prevent advertisers giving a portion of their ad campaign money to criminals who generate ad impressions that are never seen by real legitimate people. Its Certified Against Fraud standard - supported by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in its Global Media Charter - provides companies with a way to effectively fight invalid traffic and, to date, 115 companies from around the world are meeting the standard (with several hundred more going through the certification process). Requirements to reach the standard - underpinned by a market trading seal – include:

  • Filtering 100% of transactions in compliance with the GIVT requirements of the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) Invalid Traffic Guidelines;
  • Deploying technological tools to filter 100% of transactions for domain and data centre IP threats; and
  • Implementing and honouring transparency tools such as Ads.txt and TAG’s Payment ID system to create public records of authorised digital sellers and trusted chains of custody for transactions.

The Baseline Requirement for Doing Business in Digital Advertising

Research by the 614 Group shows that significant progress is being made in industry efforts to tackle ad fraud. In January 2019, a study of the top five digital advertising European markets (UK, Germany, France, The Netherlands and Italy) found that there was a dramatic reduction in fraud rates across these markets from an industry average of 8.99 percent to just 0.53 percent when using TAG’s widely-adopted Anti-Fraud Standards.

This benchmarking study builds upon research in the US that found a reduction in ad fraud of more than 84% in TAG Certified distribution channels versus the broader industry average. Fraud rates were held to less than two per cent in TAG Certified channels in both 2017 and 2018, stopping the flow of money to criminals who profit from it.

Global Standards for Local Markets

Fighting fraud in digital advertising is a global challenge: and this is why a consistent and scalable approach across markets is required to tackle it effectively. Many advertisers, such as Proctor & Gamble, are now mandating the TAG Certified Against Fraud standard in their ad buying requirements.

TAG believes in a ‘Global Standards for Local Markets’ approach as outlined in its recently published International White Paper. This involves tackling issues such as ad fraud by recognising national differences, such as market developments, cultures and political environments, but also by ensuring a consistent approach across markets. TAG’s partnership with JICWEBS in the UK is an example of this working in reality: aligning standards to tackle criminal activity across markets, and promote brand safety. For example, the recent achievement to unify under one anti-fraud certification which gives companies a clear path to implement one global anti-fraud standard wherever they operate across the world.

Demanding Quality

The WFA’s Global Media Charter is very clear: advertisers should demand quality and refuse to pay for ad fraud. TAG provides brands with this clear and effective choice, as well as delivering a consistent industry approach across borders. Ultimately it is the consumer who benefits by being able to access and engage with quality digital content funded by advertising at little or no cost.

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