The Drum: Inside the IAB’s drive to push criminals out of the programmatic supply chain

The IAB this week has issued a series of guidelines to promote cohesion among different tiers of the media supply chain including: a means of eroding the black market for ad inventory; plus a format that better enables dynamic content delivery, as programmatic spending is tipped to near $33bn.

The IAB Tech Lab has today (May 17) announced a new initiative to eliminate the black market for counterfeit and unauthorized ad impressions, a method of fraud that is often transacted in automated buying via domain spoofing.

The clean-up effort has been enabled by a tool called ads.txt, a pre-formatted index of authorized sellers that legitimate publishers can use to register their official partners, and programmatic buyers can then use as a registry to filter-out fake or misrepresented inventory.

‘Removing the fake Rolexes’

Alanna Gombert, IAB senior vice president, technology and ad operations, plus IAB Tech Lab general manager (pictured above), said the introduction of the ads.txt safety tool would lead to a more simplified, and safer supply chain for advertisers.

“Ads.txt can take both the ‘fake Rolexes’ of digital ad inventory and our industry’s ‘luxury handbags that fell off the back of a truck’ out of circulation,” she added.

Mike Zaneis, chief executive officer of TAG (the trade group co-established by the IAB, ANA and 4A’s tasked with helping to clean up the sector) added that the establishment of the sector would also help publishers by helping them “shine a light on the legitimate sellers for their inventory”, as well as helping buyers establish legitimate programmatic resellers.

“It adds another vital component to our collaborative industry-wide efforts to validate legitimate companies, add transparency to inventory, and ultimately stop criminals from defrauding our industry of billions of dollars,” he added.

After a public consultation period ending June 19, publishers can register for ads.txt by placing a file on their websites registering the authorized resellers of their media space, which the buy-side of the industry can then use to cross-reference and then choose appropriate inventory sources.

Borrowing from the book of search

Andrew Casale, chief executive officer of Index Exchange (whom has previously been outspoken on his views about the ills of the adtech space) observed similarities between the latest initiative and a key development in the maturity of the search sector of the industry.

“Ads.txt takes a proven page out of the book of search, allowing publishers to directly declare their authorized sellers, much in the same way robots.txt is used to declare instructions for search engines,” he commented.

“This will fundamentally change the game in the supply chain of programmatic, and will eradicate spoofing, and other unsavory and unauthorized activities that happen far too easily today.”

How ‘domain spoofing’ is undermining trust in legitimate players

The move is part of the trade body’s OpenRTB initiative, and is a project that Dr Neal Richter, a data science consultant and ex-chief technology officer at Rubicon Project, helped devise, he said he believed the project will lead to a noticeable reduction in ad fraud via domain-spoofing.

He added: “Let’s illustrate the impact counterfeit inventory can have on the advertising industry with an example. Imagine you just got a great deal on new pair of shoes from a brand you have always admired, but unknowingly they were a great deal because they were actually counterfeit. (Continued…)


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