Today’s Burning Question: Is the Industry Overrun with Botnets?


ADOTAS – Inspired by recent coverage of the issue by both AdWeek and AdExchanger, we asked our panel of industry leaders:

“Has botnet traffic increased exponentially in the age of programmatic buying and RTB, and if so, what can be done to combat it?”

Here are their responses:

“I don’t think this is a new issue and, in fact, has been around since the dawn of digital advertising. Thus, botnet traffic has not necessarily increased because of programmatic buying – most ad servers have had mechanisms in place to catch suspicious activity for close to a decade. Rather, programmatic buying is bringing this issue to light by providing transparency at the data level into what is real versus what is not. While it is disheartening to see that multiple millions of dollars are lost to bot traffic in the US every month, keep in mind that fraudulent activity accounts for less than 1% of digital ad spend. To put that in perspective, the industry faces an average loss of around 10% in discrepancies. I believe that the spotlight on botnet traffic has a feel of sensationalism around it, but I also believe that this debate serves a larger point, which is the importance of knowing who you’re buying from. Advertisers that are blindly buying inventory face a greater chance of getting burned; how do you know you’re not buying from a bot-driven network if you never interact with someone on the sell-side? This is why premium inventory is so important today – it delivers transparency, accountability and trust. Those relationships matter.” – Tony Katsur, Maxifier CEO.

“Nexage has not seen a significant increase in botnet traffic and far below our overall impression growth. Generating revenue via bots is generally a more difficult task in mobile, with the isolation of the mobile environment (specifically mobile apps) making it more difficult to infiltrate. In the case that botnets do target our traffic, we have bot detection and filtering in place (the bots won’t see ads) and we continually update our bot detection data sources.” –  Kevin McGowan, Sr. Director of Product Management, Nexage.

“At RadiumOne, we have been tracking the significant rise of impression fraud and charlatan ad traffic over the last 6 months. With the news breaking about the discovery of the botnet Chameleon, the ad industry is finally waking up and learning about this form of nefarious activity that costs the industry millions of dollars each month. We are leading the discussion along with other thought leaders on an industry-wide solution.” – Doug Chavez, VP of Marketing at RadiumOne.

“Large and attractive markets always attract bad actors and cheats. The bigger the market, the more the bad guys want in. The meteoric growth in the RTB-driven programmatic arena is no exception. Whether it’s Lance Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs to win 7 Tour(s) de France, or if its these slime-ball traffic botnets, the bad guys are all after the same thing.  Every reputable company has a lot more to lose than the few bucks they’d receive in the short-run if they knowingly monetized this junk. Layers of anti-fraud, brand safety, and quality scoring are mainstays at most major exchanges and SSPs.  Moreover, each of the top DSPs utilize their own additional safety and quality filters and most demand complete transparency before deciding whether or not to bid on or purchase inventory. At Federated Media Publishing we are in near constant communication with all of our partners to share information and technical approaches to detect suspicious behavior, site blacklists for any known offenders, and successfully tamping out any bad behavior that any of us see creeping in. This collaboration and transparency works, and I’m sure the bad guys hate it.” – Walter Knapp, EVP and GM of Media Platform at Federated Media Publishing.

“This news shouldn’t be a surprise. This confirms the fears of so many brand advertisers that the dark, scary exchange is a place they should not trust with their brand dollars. Now not only do they have to worry about quality inventory, viewable inventory, and potential brand erosion from association with sites no one has ever heard of, they have the added stress of determining if the clicks they did get were even real.  Next hot tech cottage industry: accurate click fraud detection. The fact that we now have companies like Spider IO that can detect this is a very positive trend. Publishers need to perform a thorough detection of their own bot activity. No more excuses or looking the other way when too-good-to-be-true performance metrics drop in their lap.” – John Tuchtenhagen, VP Group Director, Media, Digitas.

“One interesting effect of this bot traffic comes into play with algorithmically optimized demand-side platforms which don’t seem to be discounting the fraudulent traffic fast enough. The RTB placements are optimized on performance including clicks, so more advertising dollars are drawn towards the poor quality traffic. I’m not sure if this is more or less click fraud than historically has been the case, but the marketplace for it dynamically expands based on the higher relative performance of the ads on those sites. Without proper oversight an advertiser could be purchasing the majority of their impressions on sites that will likely never help them achieve their objectives and paying higher technology fees for the machine learning that enables it.” – Ryan Wilson, CEO, FiveFifty Digital Marketing.

“The complexity of the ‘acronym economy’ and the sheer volume make it easy for thieves and cheats to abuse the system.  The industry needs more security, not less.  Sellers who can guarantee a legitimate human audience will create significant enterprise value for their shareholders.” –   Ari Jacoby, CEO and Co-Founder of Solve Media.

“Combat? Never happen. The best we can ask for and support is those companies, Ad Agencies, Social Media Marketing Companies, Google, Facebook, etc. that do not allow such behavior. If they can’t stay in business without this type of behavior, then perhaps they should reconsider their business model.” – Christopher Laurance, Partner at Lightwire Media.

Check back for updates.


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