As someone who was hacked and locked out of her own email account for weeks and only regained access after several desperate pleas on Twitter, I understand the negative impact of hackers and the importance of brand safety and transparency. Unfortunately, bad actors exist across the internet and are continuously becoming more advanced while targeting everything from email accounts to advertising inventory.
Upon this realization, there are two directions you can take. One option is to go full-blown Ron Swanson, deleting every trace of your digital existence and missing out on the chance to reap digital advertising revenue.
The other — and my personal recommendation — is to educate yourself on brand safety in the digital world.
At SpotX, we value brand safety and transparency and strive to ensure that our clients are well-versed on these matters. There are so many possible threats that advertisers need to be aware of, such as verification stripping, the rise of in-app ad fraud, and fraudulent web traffic in general. It can be confusing, so let’s start with the basics.
You may have noticed the rise of ads.txt within the industry over the past few years. Introduced in June 2017 by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Tech Lab, ads.txt is designed to fight invalid web traffic and prevent domain spoofing. SpotX was an early adopter of the specification and our very own CTO, J. Allen Dove, was one of the founding members of the initiative.
Since the initial launch, ads.txt has expanded to also encompass OTT and mobile apps. SpotX encourages all media owners to implement an app-ads.txt file to protect sellers’ inventory and support the fight against bad actors. SpotX only makes inventory available to buyers that is authorized by either ads.txt files, app-ads.txt, or via proof of partnership documentation (where no file is implemented).
In 2019, eMarketer estimates that digital advertising spend will surpass $129 billion. This means that digital ad spend will be greater than traditional ad spend for the first time ever. While this is extremely exciting news for digital advertisers, you know how the saying goes: more money more problems.
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal described a fraud scheme that could have duped ads.txt adopters and enabled bad actors to steal $70 to $80 million of advertising spending had it gone unnoticed. The criminals behind the scheme opened accounts with approved ads.txt resellers to then fake inventory and sell said inventory through the approved accounts while hoping to go unnoticed.
Luckily, both DoubleVerify and SpotX were immediately aware and eliminated the problem from a very early stage. So we’ve seen firsthand that, while app-ads.txt is an important measure to implement, it cannot put an end to bad actors alone. Implementing either ads.txt or app-ads.txt is a cost-effective way to protect against bad behavior but requires due diligence to verify that all parties involved are abiding by the specification.
Brand safety and transparency
Cue the SpotX in-house Brand Safety Team to the rescue! SpotX knows that brand safety requires a multi-pronged approach of people, technology, and processes to fight the ever-evolving fraudsters — as proven by this threat. That’s why we have an entire team dedicated to eradicating these and similar issues from the industry.
Our in-house Brand Safety Team manages our partnerships with anti-fraud vendors and provides human eyes and analysis in addition to the technology already in place. This allows us to react quickly and proactively avoid any potential threats. SpotX takes a common-sense approach to eliminate bad traffic and remove inventory that seems too good to be true, even if not marked as such by verification services.
When signing a new client, SpotX also has a strict onboarding process with new media owners to ensure they meet our standards. The Brand Safety Team closely examines each media owner and asks the question, “Are they adding value to the ecosystem?” If we cannot confidently answer yes to that question, the media owner is not integrated. We check every impression served and have a zero tolerance policy for content we deem invalid, inappropriate, or unsafe.
This process allows us to proactively eliminate low-quality sources and ensures buyers are accessing valid, brand-safe inventory. We require complete transparency from our media owners so we can in return provide transparency to advertisers.
Third-party vendors and certifications
Lastly, let’s take a look at the processes SpotX has in place to ensure we destroy any remaining chances those bad actors might have to infiltrate our advertising inventory.
We work with several third-party anti-fraud vendors — including DoubleVerify, Moat, Zvelo, and SimilarWeb — to provide an extra layer of security. These vendors monitor brand safety and verify inventory quality, viewability, engagement, and transparency. Leveraging these partners allows us to proactively filter out both sophisticated and general forms of invalid traffic, eliminating a bad transaction from ever occurring. Every impression is then audited to ensure transparency and eliminate any other forms of illicit activity.
As mentioned earlier, we’re also a founding member of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), and have achieved Platinum status and full compliance with TAG’s official anti-fraud, anti-malware, anti-piracy, and Inventory Quality Guidelines (IQG) programs on an annual basis. SpotX is one of only a few companies that have achieved compliance for all programs by being independently audited, demonstrating that we truly have the processes and teams in place to execute these practices and eliminate bad actors.
It’s impossible to be completely protected from bad traffic in digital video advertising. While SpotX always strives for perfection, we understand that nobody is completely protected from bad traffic. As such, we uphold our commitment to transparency and participate in payback programs in the rare occasion bad traffic makes its way through our safety gates.
Now that you’re an expert in brand safety and transparency, there are a few last steps to take in order to better protect yourself. We highly recommend that you participate in ads.txt if feasible or ensure you’re only working with SSPs that are fully ads.txt compliant.
It’s also recommended that you require full transparency reporting regarding your ad placements. And take it from me, you should definitely enable two-step verification on your email account and update your backup contact information.
Click here to take our free SpotX University online brand safety course to learn more about common concerns and the measures you can take to protect yourself.
This article was written by Leah Neuberth, marketing communications manager at SpotX.