We are thrilled to be included in this important insights piece on the issues Ads.txt faces in relationship to ad fraud.

Dr. Augustine Fou

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I’ve said over the years that marketers should not assume ads.txt solves ad fraud. Authorized digital sellers (ads.txt) is a protocol from the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) that was touted to increase transparency and reduce ad fraud by having publishers declare which exchanges were authorized to sell their ad inventory. Each line in the ads.txt text file would contain 3 items — the name of the exchange, the sellerID of that domain on the exchange, the type (DIRECT or RESELLER), and optionally a 4th item, the certificate ID issued to that publisher by a certification authority.

The original idea was naively simple too — advertisers could check a website’s ads.txt file to make sure they were buying only from “authorized digital sellers.” This would help them avoid sellers or resellers that were not authorized to sell that publisher’s ad inventory. Aside from the problems of slow adoption and lack of buyers actually checking the contents of ads.txt files, things have devolved into further complexity and loopholes that have increased the volume of ad fraud. Even though I’ve tried to explain technically how more fraud happens under the cover of ads.txt and several other studies have since been published that corroborate the scale of the abuses of ads.txt [1], [2], [3], [4] no one seemed to care.

So I’ll try something different here. Let’s problem-solve like a fraudster. If ads.txt were erected as a barrier to my making money, what do I do to get around it? Once this was accomplished, fraudsters innovated further to take advantage of ads.txt to commit more fraud than was possible before it existed.

Problem: You Can’t Sell Unless Your Site has ads.txt

Early in the launch of ads.txt, circa 2017, Google and MediaMath came out with bold proclamations that they would no longer allow sites without ads.txt files to continue selling through their platforms, after a certain date. When faced with this threat to their money making, fraudsters that operated fake websites quickly added ads.txt files to all their sites, so they could continue making money uninterrupted. Who do you think were the earliest adopters of ads.txt? Right, the fake site operators. It was just a text file, and it took under 60 seconds to copy and paste and upload to the server. Problem solved. Mainstream publishers, however, took months and months to get ads.txt files placed, because they had to schedule in advance, given the insanely busy schedules of their web development teams >>> READ MORE HERE

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