Advertising to Bots

Morgan Meaker, Wired:

Advertising didn’t always used to be like this. Augustine Fou, who has been a digital marketer for 25 years, says that in the past decade there’s been an explosion in fake traffic. Fou believes the industry was corrupted around a decade ago, when a series of opaque middlemen entered the scene. “Prior to that, advertisers would buy ads from publishers like The New York Times,” he says. But now it’s typical for brands to approach a digital ad exchange—which facilitates the buying and selling of advertising from different ad networks—to place their adverts on huge numbers of websites and apps. And it is this part of the system that has become vulnerable to bots, claims Fou.

“The exchanges have deliberately looked the other way when there are fraudulent sites and mobile apps that become part of that exchange,” he claims. Google and Facebook are among the companies that run these exchanges alongside other listed US companies such as Pubmatic and Magnite. “The ad exchanges don’t want to solve fraud because fraud generates so much volume,” Fou claims. “And the exchanges essentially make more money when more volume passes through their platforms.” None of the exchanges responded to requests for comment.

App Tracking Transparency and Safari’s anti-tracking protections have undeniably had an effect on advertisers, but I feel like behavioural advertising has bigger concerns than the stuff Apple does — which, by the way, many of these companies have been able to work around. Regulators are increasingly wary of tracking, users do not like their privacy being violated, currency fluctuations are a risk for this U.S.-centric business model, and the industry is rife with fraud. Maybe some of that is a higher priority.