Ad fraud: does anyone know how big a problem it even is?
MediaSense's Dan Brown (left) and the IAB's Steve Chester.
The scale of online ad fraud is simply unknowable, according to the IAB - one of the key organisations tasked with helping put the issue right.
"It's a problem, but I don't think we know how big a problem," said the organisation's director of data and industry programmes, Steve Chester, during the 2015 Video Upfronts conference, hosted by Mediatel on Wednesday.
One of the reasons, other industry experts suggest, is that it is an issue hampered by scaremongering, misinformation and a difference in the way terms such as 'ad viewability' and 'ad fraud' are graded by the competing tools that are used to work against them.
The UK's Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) - the independent body that defines best practice and standards for online ad trading, of which IAB is a core part - held the first cross-industry technical group meeting designed to tackle online ad fraud in December last year.
According to Chester, the body is aiming to publish anti-fraud good practice principles for the UK market in July 2015 and, beyond that, to announce the first companies to be accredited for meeting industry-agreed standards to reduce the risk of fraudulent ads being served.
JICWEBS anticipates making an interim announcement imminently, updating the industry on the progress in defining the different types of online ad fraud and the appropriate guidelines.
"The first iteration was to try and create definitions and issue guidance to the market, whilst the longer-term goal is to create principles for the market," Chester said.
In the meantime, however, clients remain concerned that money is being wasted on ad impressions that are either fake or unviewable.
"Brands are worried," said Dan Brown, senior digital advisor at MediaSense. "Ultimately, they want to be paying for an impression that is in view and that is human.
"However, I think there's a lot of scaremongering when it comes to ad fraud," he added, claiming some of the statistics thrown around in the trade press are unreliable, and that it is muddying the waters in an already complex market.
"There are figures regarding ad fraud that are, essentially, made-up - and that's going around and worrying clients. I don't think there's any way to quantify them."
One figure many seem to agree on, however, comes from the US-based Association of National Advertisers (ANA). The body's December 2014 study revealed that almost a quarter of video ad impressions can be identified as 'bot fraud' - with the problem set to cost advertisers $6.3bn globally this year.
According to the study, older browsers were deemed a higher risk, with Internet Explorer 6 and 7 recording fraud levels of 58 and 46 percent, respectively.
Asked who should take ultimate responsibility for tackling the issue, both Brown and Chester agree that an industry-wide, collaborative approach - such as the IAB is currently a part of - is best. However, Brown said media agencies could do more.
"I don't think agencies want to go to their clients and tell them 50% - 60% of what they're buying is fraudulent or non-viewable, but agencies need to take a leadership position and advise their clients and make decisions about applying guidance and principles to their planning," he said.
Chester said, longer-term, the industry could be in a position to verify who is minimising ad fraud, in much the same way viewabilty is currently verified - essentially allowing those in the supply chain to be kite-marked for working to industry best practice.
JICWEBS said it intends to liaise with relevant US industry bodies to produce a "complementary anti-fraud framework" to the US market, recognising that although local markets have local needs, entities with an international presence "require globally-focused standards".
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