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Biggest Ad Fraud Cases In 2020

Biggest Ad Fraud Cases In 2020

By Jonathan Marciano

Mobile, display, OTT, click fraud all seeing rises in 2020

With cybercrime up across the board as a result of COVID-19 it is no surprise that the gateway of ad fraud has seen rising attacks. With the FBI seeing a 75% spike in daily cybercrimes since the start of the pandemic, it would be extremely strange if we did not see a rise in attacks against the $333 billion set to be spent by brands on digital advertising in 2020. The enforcement cases, whether prosecutions from Facebook, or Google, competitor click frauds, or new attacks have only kept rising across the digital ecosystem.

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Mobile ad fraud

In 2020, the Google Play Store has had regular challenges. In February 2020, apps — mostly camera utilities and children’s games were laced with a malware strain dubbed Haken, stealing data and signs victims up for expensive premium services. In February, announcing the banning of 100 apps from the Google Play Store, Per Bjorke, Senior Product Manager, Ad Traffic Quality at Google confirmed the scale of the problem: “Mobile ad fraud is an industry-wide challenge that can appear in many different forms with a variety of methods, and it has the potential to harm users, advertisers and publishers.” In March, the Google Play store also removed 50 Android apps compromised by the Tekya auto-clicker-malware. In June 2020, popular barcode apps producing ads that instantly vanish were removed after being downloaded 1 million times. In April, 29 apps were identified and removed, but had collected 3.5 million total downloads. In many cases, users can not even remove the app or close it down, because it is also removed from the smartphone screen (only removable by going into phone settings). User reviews of such apps began with bot-driven five-star reviews. This followed by genuine human reviews confirming that such apps are barely functional.

Publisher ad fraud

Publishers have faced severe economic challenges from ad fraud alongside a separate $3.2 billion hit from keyword brand safety implementation by brands in 2020. The Indian edition of the International Business Times has been caught three times using deceptive ad practices to inflate views, blamed on a “rogue employee”. Showing the economic incentives of such fraud, the publication said the employee sought to ” boost his performance metrics…[employing] shortcut methods to reach monthly targets”.

In one fantastic investigation, Megan Graham, a CNBC reporter showed the ease of setting up an illegitimate news website and monetizing with online ads. The fake site attracted ads from top brands including Kohl’s, Wayfair, Overstock and Chewy”. [In a statement, Overstock said that as an advertiser it is negatively impacted by this fraud and does “everything in [its] power to prevent it.”] It has been estimated that such fake news site can make $100,000 a month from inflating traffic with bots, and attracting online ads. UK brand Virgin Media, one of dozens of brands advertising on such sites, said: “We hope more can be done across the industry to clamp down on these instances of pay-per-con advertising fraud.”

Even when affirmative action has been taken where  brands sought to prevent their ads appearing on Breitbart, so called “dark pooling” (sharing of ads.txt identification) effectively mislabeled  inventory and funneled ad dollars back to such sites.

In setting out its views on the market problems of online advertising, the UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition Markets Authority wrote in July 2020: “If problems in the digital advertising market mean that [publishers] receive a lower share of advertising revenues than they should, this is likely to reduce their incentives and ability to invest in news and other online content, to the detriment of those who use and value such content and to broader society.”