Since December, the US online video advertising ecosystem has been losing around $3-5 million a day in ad revenue due to an extensive fraud ad network called Methbot, which is targeting premium video inventory. Is India ready to combat a scam of this scale?
Online fraud in India
Speaking about the Methbot attack, Subrat Kar, Co-founder at Vidooly, a cross platform video intelligence provider, agreed that the level of reverse engineering carried out to abide by ad quality verification indicates the high level of sophistication of the hackers responsible for the attacks. He called it a “wake up call” for programmatic ad buying platforms to up their security or implement stringent ad-quality verification processes to render such attacks useless.
“Online fraud has been, and still is, a real big pain for all the stakeholders in the digital world. It is difficult to say whether this will increase or not. Online frauds have always evolved with time just like crimes in real world, but to be brutally honest; being on the vigil constantly is the only way to go,” he said.
“Annually, billions of dollars are lost to ad fraud, due to fraudulent clicks, scams and fake traffic. It is no longer enough to talk about secure advertising at forums and conferences, there needs to be a proper set of actions undertaken to beef up security. One needs to empanel and work alongside professional fraud detection service providers to tackle the issue headlong. Ad networks, exchanges and DSPs need to take the lead to ensure appropriate roadblocks are setup to block Methbot and its contemporaries. Additionally, brands and agencies need to use their discretion and make an informed decision about what kind of ad tech vendors they are working with, and whether they are prepared to tackle any unforeseen circumstances of fraud that may arise,” advised Karan Gupta, Co-founder of Andbeyond.media.
What can the Methbot attacks teach us?
“The Methbot attack has certainly taken the advertising industry by a jolt of surprise. Up until now, ad spaces being traded and bought over programmatic channels were considered fairly fraud-safe, making this event not just a move that is detrimental to the widespread adoption of programmatic, but one that also authenticates the fact that ad fraud has largely matured,” said Gupta.
“While the effects of an attack like this have not had repercussions on Indian advertisers so far, the onus of tackling this issue falls on the shoulders of the industry both globally, and locally. Methbot is only an indicator that there will be larger, more sophisticated attacks in the coming future,” he further added.
According to Vikas Katoch, Founder and CEO at Adomantra Digital, the best way to create a secure environment is to create more transparency in the online advertising industry. “There should be one standard parameter in the industry for measuring viewability of the ads, which will give brands, advertisers and publishers a solution for not only detecting but preventing and even eliminating frauds. Publishers develop and use different standards and methodologies, which suit their convenience. The benefits of online video turn clearly invaluable if the measurement parameters are not genuine and substantial, making it vulnerable for fraudsters. Other effective means are to check repeated session behaviour, compare and persistently study traffic flow and patterns, evaluate browser data,” he told us.
However, this is easier said than done. The digital industry globally is still struggling with adopting common metrics for online advertisement and this does not likely to change anytime soon. With programmatic buying, as the daisy chain of interlinked systems between the publisher and the advertiser continues to grow, it creates less visibility, and hence, more chances of fraudulent activities. This is another thing that digital advertisers and agencies have struggled with over the last few years.
Rabe Iyer, MD of Motivator, while acknowledging that the problem of bots exists in the Indian market, said that the company has yet to come across a scam of the magnitude of Methbot.
“The problem of bots exists in this market, but we have not come across such grave and complex scams such as the methbot issue as yet, especially in the video platform advertising,” he added.
When asked what are some of the ways digital advertisers and agencies can create a more secure environment, he explained, “At a broad level wider adoption of technology has to be made. Industry need to be more vigilant about such issues and reach more quickly while creating trusted market place environment. Further, it’s critical we get the basic first steps absolutely right that is third party ad tracking and tagging is a must. Secondly, create a process and protocol for checking bots. This is studying patterns; pre versus post campaign performance versus historic evolution of performances. Besides the above are standard protocols, we lay max emphasis in ROI tracking that is input v/s outcome (sales, end conversions, etc), the historic and aggregated data analytics clearly indicates possible hypothesis for underperformance cases and if bots is a case, it can be narrowed down sharply.”