Connected TV (CTV) has not only transformed the entertainment world, it has also created a vibrant new platform for digital advertising. However, as with any innovative space, there are challenges that arise, including the emergence of bad actors aiming to siphon money away from advertisers and publishers through fraudulent or invalid ad traffic. Invalid traffic is an evolving challenge that has the potential to affect the integrity and health of digital advertising on CTV. However, there are steps the industry can take to combat invalid traffic and foster a clean, trustworthy, and sustainable ecosystem.
Information sharing and following best practices
Every player across the digital advertising ecosystem has the opportunity to help reduce the risk of CTV ad fraud. It starts by spreading awareness across the industry and building a commitment among partners to share best practices for defending against invalid traffic. Greater transparency and communication are crucial to creating lasting solutions.
One key best practice is contributing to and using relevant industry standards. We encourage CTV inventory providers to follow the CTV/OTT Device & App Identification Guidelines and IFA Guidelines. These guidelines, both of which were developed by the IAB Tech Lab, foster greater transparency, which in turn reduces the risk of invalid traffic on CTV. More information and details about using these resources can be found in the following guide: Protecting your ad-supported CTV experiences.
Collaborating on standards and solutions
No single company or industry group can solve this challenge on their own, we need to work collaboratively to solve the problem. Fortunately, we’re already seeing constructive efforts in this direction with industry-wide standards.
For example, the broad implementation of the IAB Tech Lab’s app-ads.txt and its web counterpart, ads.txt, have brought greater transparency to the digital advertising supply chain and have helped combat ad fraud by allowing advertisers to verify the sellers from whom they buy inventory. In 2021, the IAB Tech Lab extended the app-ads.txt standard to CTV in order to better protect and support CTV advertisers. This update is the first of several industry-wide steps that have been taken to further protect CTV advertising. In early 2022, the IAB Tech Lab released the ads.cert 2.0 “protocol suite,” along with a proposal to utilize this new standard to secure server-side connections (including for server-side ad insertion). Ads.cert 2.0 will also power future industry standards focused on securing the supply chain and preventing misrepresentation.
In addition to these efforts, the Media Rating Council (MRC) also engaged with stakeholders to develop its Server-Side Ad Insertion and OTT (Over-the-Top) Guidance, which provides a consistent set of guidelines specific to CTV for organizations that seek MRC accreditation for invalid traffic detection and filtration. We’re also seeing key partners tackle this challenge through informal working groups. For example, we collaborated with various CTV and security partners across our industry on a solution that allows companies to ensure video ad requests are coming from a valid Roku device.
But more work is needed. Players across the digital advertising ecosystem need to continue to build momentum through opportunities and initiatives that enable further collaboration on solutions.
Our ongoing investment in invalid traffic defenses
At Google, we’ve been defending our ad systems against invalid traffic for nearly two decades. By striking the right balance between automation and human expertise, we’ve developed a comprehensive set of measures to respond to threats like botnets, click farms, domain misrepresentation, and more. We’re now applying a similar approach to minimize the risk of CTV ad fraud, balancing innovation with tried-and-true technologies.
We’ve developed a machine learning platform built on TensorFlow, which has enabled us to expand the amount of inventory we can review and scale our defenses against invalid traffic to include additional surfaces, such as CTV. While machine learning has allowed us to better analyze ad traffic in new and diverse ways, we’ve also continued to leverage the work of research analysts and industry experts to ensure our automated enforcement systems are running effectively on CTV.
In addition to setting up new defenses for CTV, we’re also taking a more conservative approach with the CTV inventory we make available. This ensures that we aren’t exposing advertisers to unnecessary risk while CTV standards and best practices continue to evolve and mature, and while their adoption by the industry increases.
Evolving and adapting
We know that bad actors continuously evolve and adapt their methods to evade detection and enforcement of our policies. The tactics behind invalid traffic and ad fraud will inevitably become more sophisticated with the growth of CTV. However, if the industry pulls together, we’ll be in a better position to not only address these new threats head on, but stay one step ahead of them while building a CTV advertising ecosystem that is safe and sustainable for everyone.