When We Decided To Fight Ad Fraud

Written on
Mar 19, 2014 
Timur Yarnall  |

ADOTAS – In June 2013, when my co-founder and I launched MdotLabs to fight the waste to advertisers caused by non-human traffic, most of my contacts in the industry either scoffed at the problem as being something nobody would openly acknowledge or asked jokingly if I thought of myself as some kind of cyber-cop or Dudley Do-Right.

But they were wrong on both fronts; the problem rapidly gained traction as a key issue for the ad ecosystem (thanks in part to lots of press coverage the past few months). And my primary motivation to launch Mdot stemmed from fear and anger.

Why? In mid-2012, as CEO of Broadcast Interactive Media, I had to manage the company through a near-death experience when we were nearly defrauded by unscrupulous publishers and networks.

We’d grown BIM to be one of the top-ranked networks in comScore News and Information rankings and, as we sought to grow beyond local news, on-boarded several publishers we thought were high quality. Some were even funded by top-name Silicon Valley VCs. BIM had checks in place to ensure quality (manually checking privacy policies and sites, viewability tools, brand-safety and content scoring, etc.). But none of these protected us from what happened next.

We were running most of our publisher inventory (hundreds of sites) through Google’s DoubleClick AdExchange. Suddenly, Google hit the BIM network with a large clawback (as they did to so many in 2012) and of course gave us no data on what they’d detected or on what specific sites. A huge revenue deduction was magnified as we not only wouldn’t get paid by Google, but we also we had no data on which of the hundreds of sites we worked with were responsible for the issue. So we didn’t know who to withhold OUR payment from and which publishers were good and should still get paid.

Fortunately, we did have a small team of data scientists that went into overdrive to review our own ad serving and hosting records, and my co-founder Paul Barford was able to apply anomaly detection techniques he’d perfected in the cyber-security domain to determine the likely offenders. It became clear we’d been hit by sophisticated traffic generation networks using botnets to mimic human activity. But we couldn’t have seen it coming given then-current detection tools in the market, as the bots rendered the ads “viewable” with browsers and ran the ads on “safe” content.

After many rounds of legal letters and threats of litigation (and many sleepless nights on my part), BIM was able to prove which sites committed the fraud and withhold payment from them. What we launched while in crisis mode to protect ourselves and honed for several months became the platform we’d spin off into its own company.

Stories like mine aren’t unique. Many of us have suffered sleepless nights at least because of ad fraud, others have lost much more, and it’s important to remember that as each of us in the industry weigh the consequences of turning a blind eye.

MdotLabs is a data security platform that prevents the impact of fraudulent ad traffic, and growing a successful business is great. But my personal motivation for starting this company is that no entrepreneur should have to go through the painful experience I did when we were attacked at BIM.

Timur Yarnall is CEO and co-founder of Broadcast Interactive Media (BIM), a leading digital ad network and data services provider of revenue and technical solutions to online publishers and a trusted resource for hundreds of local broadcasters and media sites worldwide. He is also CEO and co-founder forMdotLabs, Inc., a new provider of advertising security and campaign assurance tools for brands, agencies, and publishers, spun out of BIM.

BIM core products include the BIMLocal Ad Optimization Platform, BIMvid video CMS, MediaStar Suite of program scheduling tools, and TitanTV.com Guide Data Services. BIM Customers include ABC, Belo Corp., Capitol Broadcasting, CBS Television, Fox Television, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst-Argyle, NBC Owned Television Stations, Scripps-Howard, and the Telemundo Station Group.

BIM was launched in New York City, but in 2005, Timur accelerated the company’s growth with a move to booming tech hub, Madison, WI. Timur is an acknowledged a global leader in publisher tools, data services, and revenue optimization and in just 10 years has grown BIM to become a top local media revenue and publishing platform provider.

MdotLabs will help advertisers, demand-side platforms, and publisher networks ID and avoid invalid traffic which is now costing the online ad ecosystem over $10 billion every year in wasted ad spending. In one of its first studies, MdotLabs found that a significant percentage of the top 100 online advertisers are being victimized by PPV networks that perpetrate traffic fraud.

Prior to founding BIM, Timur was co-founder of Clickability, a web content management platform that was later acquired by Limelight Networks. While at Clickability, he landed customers such as WSJ, People.com, CNN and 160 other websites. Before founding Clickability, Timur was as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft working on GPS guidance systems for military aircraft.

Timur earned both his BS and his MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, with a focus on Mechatronics for his graduate work. At Stanford, Timur was a member of the varsity baseball team and an All-American rugby player.

Reader Comments.

I am sorry to hear, Timur, of your problems with fraudulent traffic. But in my opinion, DoubleClick made the right business decision to cut-off business with a partner who was delivering nefarious traffic to their network. I’m sure they did so after hearing complaints from advertiser customers.
- If you had set up appropriate controls to detect poor performing sites,
- If you had set up appropriate monitoring and vetting policies for your partners, and
- if your company had been certified or accredited to IAB/MRC measurement standards
We run into this frequently and the above bullets address the problem. Obviously a good software tool helps significantly also.
I would venture to say that this problem would not have occurred. Our certification audits make sure that our clients are “looking” at their traffic.
Dick Bennett

Posted by Dick Bennett CEO | 4:15 pm on March 19, 2014.

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