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It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time in adtech that the term invalid traffic really had no meaning, and no one was concerned about or even gave much thought to ad fraud. Those days, the biggest threat was monetized impressions on pirate websites. That was actually just the beginning of what ad fraud would grow to become.

Online piracy was (and still is) a huge problem on the internet, but decades ago it posed a huge risk to adtech mainly because self-regulation and the unifying of the industry were in its infancy. Piracy was lucrative for bad actors. Simply steal content or IP, upload it to your website, make it available for download, slap some ads on it, and get paid. The formula is basically selling a product at zero cost and then keeping 100% of the profits. It didn’t take the bad guys long to figure this one out and soon adtech was faced with a huge piracy issue.
IVT Questions
The specific problem was that ad networks of the days were constantly being bombarded with publisher applications for seemingly legit sites only to later find their ad code plastered all over pirated download pages giving off nothing but invalid traffic. This led to a chain reaction on the advertiser side because of course, having your ad appear next to stolen content is a major brand safety issue. So, it came down to the networks having to take action to shut this sort of activity down.

Some 20 years ago tracking was not nearly as advanced as it is now making unearthing a piracy scheme like the above quite difficult in some scenarios and even a bit cumbersome.

But after an exhaustive investigation and finally getting to the root of the issue, it seemed like there should have been a prize at the end.

How can I use this inventory to my advantage?

The answer is, you simple can’t.

If you were the advertiser and found that your ads were displaying on fraudulent pages, you’d simply have to stop buying on the network or publisher. If you were the network, you’d have no choice but to turn the publisher off.

Even though the terms invalid traffic and ad fraud didn’t exactly mean what they do today, the concept was born out of this scenario.

Eventually the networks were able to stomp out the issue sending these types of bad actor operations into the dark corners of the internet. Problem solved.

Nope.

There’s just way too much money in it… the formula of selling a product without a cost and keeping 100% of the profits… The bad actors of the world could never let this concept go. As a result, we’d go on to endure many more shady operations and scandals before ad fraud and invalid traffic became standard industry lingo.

Today, ad fraud being committed isn’t as simple as placing some paid ads on stolen content, it’s much more sophisticated. The bad guys have become smarter. They’ve evolved and are not going away any time soon.

So once you’ve found invalid traffic in your supply, the same question remains, you have to be able to leverage it for something, right? Unfortunately, no.

It’s called invalid traffic for a reason, it’s invalid. Distributing it is ad fraud.

Buyers, add the site your blocklist. Networks and exchanges, drop the publisher if the IVT levels are too high and consistent. If you’re a publisher, don’t fire your header bidder and put up your paywall.

About Kyle: I started one of the leading ad networks in the early 2000s. After the dawn of programmatic, we became an SSP and went on to host billions and billions of monthly openRTB and header bidding auctions. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with many exchanges, thousands of direct publishers and advertisers of all sizes, and have seen the effects of ad fraud firsthand. Today, I run escalated.io We help individuals and companies across the entire spectrum of adtech detect invalid traffic and prevent ad fraud within multiple mediums including display, video, mobile, app, and CTV.
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