Luke Taylor
Jan 25, 2019

Why TAG certification isn’t enough in the fight against ad fraud

Standardisation provides guidance, but brands still need to stay on high alert and keep their protections fortified.

Why TAG certification isn’t enough in the fight against ad fraud

Digital is (still) expanding at an exponential rate. According to We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Global Digital Report, in 2018 alone, internet users were up by 7% year-on-year (bringing the total to about 4 billion); social media users grew 13% (to 3.2 billion); and mobile phone users added another 4% (5.1 billion). Meanwhile, between us, we clocked a staggering billion years in surfing time, with the average internet user spending six hours a day using connected devices and online services.

No wonder then that advertisers are rapidly migrating their budgets to digital—and particularly mobile channels. Our research estimates mobile adspend came to $130 billion in 2018, accounting for 60% of all digital advertising budgets; we predict that figure will increase to $291 billion by 2022.

But of course, with great connectivity comes great risk. And while we come up with new and inventive ways to engage with our audiences online, so too are fraudsters chasing our tails, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce. Indeed, the same study suggested that $34 billion of mobile ad spend would be lost to fraud in 2018—in other words, more than a quarter of budgets.

How do we combat such a threat and plug the drain on our ad spend? One measure would naturally be to carefully consider who you’re working with to place your ads, and what they do to safeguard quality. Earlier this month, the spotlight was shone on the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) Certification Against Fraud initiative, after a report found that using certified channels for digital advertising reduced the level of fraud to less than 1% (compared to an industry standard of almost 9%).

TAG certification also acts as a big brother to ad traffic sources. Most people behave differently if they know they are being watched.

This is an excellent first step for the industry. It’s no small feat to achieve TAG certification, requiring an independent audit to ensure a business complies with the Media Rating Council’s Invalid Traffic Guidelines. In turn, this standardises how the ecosystem—be that traffic suppliers, agencies or technology intermediaries—talks about ad fraud as a whole.

Aside from auditing effectiveness of anti-fraud processes, TAG certification also acts as a big brother to ad traffic sources. Most people behave differently if they know they are being watched. In the case of digital advertising, if traffic sources know they are being monitored, they will be more rigorous in efforts to safeguard quality—ultimately reducing fraud in the process. The effectiveness of TAG-certified channels is likely a combination of ability to mitigate fraud, and also lower volumes of fraud to be mitigated.

However, it’s important to note that within the current initiative, there is no one way to achieve compliance. Different approaches lead to different solutions of varying effectiveness, built to serve a variety of interests. It’s therefore vital to remember that working with channels where less fraud is observed does not negate the need for third-party verification, nor does it provide enough protection for us to become complacent.

Fraud tactics evolve quickly, so even if you’re working with trusted supply sources, new tactics can start siphoning off ad spend, faster than you can say “verification”. A traffic source that was fine yesterday may well not be tomorrow. But how can you know that for sure without verifying?

Let us not forget that there’s a big internet out there. It’s growing and mutating every day, leaving fraudsters plenty of space to find blind spots.

Additionally, when you want to scale up your ad campaigns, new traffic sources will be introduced—either directly by you or by the networks and agencies you work with. As investment increases and new sources are added, it becomes even more important to verify traffic quality.

It’s also worth noting that knowing you haven’t been impacted by fraud is sometimes as valuable as knowing you have. Without verification that traffic is good, for example, an advertiser cannot rely on performance data to make informed budget and optimisation decisions.

TAG’s achievements to date should be applauded for bringing the topic of ad fraud to the forefront, and encouraging quality assurance. But let us not forget that there’s a big internet out there. It’s growing and mutating every day, leaving fraudsters plenty of space to find blind spots unless we stay on high alert and keep our defenses fortified. After all, even a 1% success rate will be more than enough to keep fraudsters coming back for more.


Luke Taylor is COO and founder of Perth-based TrafficGuard.

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