One of the big stories in the digital advertising industry right now is a recent report from Buzzfeed about a mobile ad fraud scheme involving more than 100 apps. At Smaato, we take ad fraud on any scale very seriously and work proactively to create a clean, protected mobile advertising marketplace. With that in mind, we wanted to share in detail how we handled this particular instance of fraud.
As reported by Buzzfeed, the fraudsters acquired legitimate apps through a network of connected shell companies. Once these apps were under new ownership, the purchasers then used bots to mimic real user behavior within the apps and deliver fake traffic to advertisers. It’s a sophisticated scheme, as it mixes fraudulent traffic with the legitimate traffic provided by real users.
A portion of the apps later identified in the Buzzfeed report were sending traffic to the Smaato platform. Due to our quality control checks, we quickly identified this fraudulent traffic in mid-2017. The first warning sign was that apps with relatively low or mid-range download numbers were recording suspiciously high traffic. For the next step, we tested the apps ourselves and saw that a high amount of traffic was generated in the background, when the apps were not active or the device was on standby. Further research showed that the suspicious group of apps shared a high percentage of identical common users who turned out to be bots.
Although the suspicious apps all claimed to have different publishers, we found that these apps and others were connected by using a fraud tactic called spoofing. These apps were misrepresenting the information sent through the bid request as more premium inventory from another app participating in the fraud.
We blacklisted the suspicious apps and repeated the process when other apps began generating similarly suspicious traffic. Because we found fraudulent traffic so early, we did not have any significant spend involving the apps mentioned in the report.
Fraud is constantly evolving and stamping it out is a significant challenge. Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in deploying new methods to bilk legitimate companies out of their money. Despite the challenges, we are committed to creating a fraud-free ecosystem. To help turn this goal into a reality, we use a combination of the following:
- Our dedicated traffic quality teams in the Americas, APAC, and EMEA use extensive experience and advanced detection methods to identify fraudulent activity.
- Proprietary technology along with a thorough publisher onboarding process stops fraud before it even happens.
- Trusted third-party vendors such as Protected Media, Forensiq, and AdBug bolster our fraud protection.
With these measures in place, we’ve been able to halt suspicious activity as soon as it arises. The case reported by Buzzfeed won’t be the last time that fraudsters try to take advantage of the digital advertising ecosystem. And while ad fraud is always changing, we’re ready to meet these challenges head-on with our extensive experience and advanced technology.