Ad Fraud

Google Gives Advertisers the Option to Buy Ads.txt Authorised-Only Inventory

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Google has announced that advertisers using Display and Video 360 (previously known as DoubleClick Bid Manager) will now have the option of exclusively buying inventory that has been authorised by a publisher’s ads.txt file; currently an opt-in, Google will make this a default setting by the end of this year.

What’s ads.txt? It’s a protocol created by the IAB Tech Lab to curb domain spoofing ad fraud. The ads.txt file resides on a publisher’s ad server and contains a list of ad tech partners authorised to sell inventory. Programmatic platforms keep another copy of ads.txt that lists the publishers that they are authorised to represent in ad sales. This way, buyers have a standardised way of authenticating the inventory that they are bidding on. Here’s a more detailed explanation about ads.txt.

With a push from Google, Trade Desk, AppNexus, MediaMath, and other ad tech companies, ads.txt adoption has continued its rise—according to Google—more than 430,000 domains have added the ads.txt file since February, bringing the adoption rate to 90% for all Google publishing partners.

The growth of ads.txt. Image courtesy: DoubleClick Publisher Blog

While there are instances of publishers running into errors while implementing ads.txt file, most due to spelling errors, the overall reception of the standard has been positive. To test the effectiveness of ads.txt in eliminating programmatic fraud, Guardian recently teamed up with MightyHive and Google.

Here’s what they found:

  1. Video was the most affected with 72% of video ad spend going to unauthorized exchanges and SSPs
  2. When buying without ads.txt both display and video inventory sales were reported by unauthorized exchanges claiming to sell the guardian.com inventory – the money for these sales did not reach Guardian US
  3. Ads.txt buying saw no discrepancies in revenue, and all inventory was bought through Guardian US authorized exchanges

“In partnering with Guardian US and Google, we were able to take a deep dive into the ad supply chain and point to where significant ad fraud is occurring,” said Pete Kim, CEO of MightyHive. “Marketers should only partner with DSPs that are ads.txt compliant. It is a no-brainer, no-cost solution that helps buyers avoid significant waste.” The Guardian report concluded, “The results showed clear evidence of unauthorized exchanges claiming to have sold Guardian US inventory and taking revenue when the buy was made through the open exchange. In contrast, there were no signs of fraud through the DSP only buying ads.txt authorised inventory.”

What does it all mean for publishers? The new push to facilitate the sales of ads.txt autorized-only inventory seems designed to offer an incentive to publishers who haven’t yet implemented the standard to do so, lest they be left out of the programmatic supply chain. “The standard only works if everyone participates,” says Pooja Kapoor, head of GDPR and data trust at Google. “We want to flip the current toggle by the end of 2018 so the default standard is authorized-only and you have to take the step of opting out for non-participating inventory.”