Trolls And Bots: They’re Not Just For Politics Anymore!

November 27, 2017

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported:

An ad-tech firm says it has discovered a large and sophisticated advertising-fraud operation in which fake websites and infected computers were used to scam advertisers and publishers out of upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.

Denmark-based Adform, identifier of the scheme, named it “Hyphbot” and estimates that it has been going on since at least August.

According to Adform, the fraudsters behind the Hyphbot scheme created more than 34,000 different domain names and more than a million different URLs, many designed to attempt to fool advertisers into thinking they were buying ad inventory from big-name publishers such as the Economist, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN. It is a tactic known in the industry as “domain spoofing.” […]

Adform’s investigation suggested that the people behind Hyphbot used a network of data centers and unwitting consumers’ computers, infected by malware, to access more than half a million IP addresses, mostly from the U.S., to mimic real browsing behavior on the network of fake sites.

The suspicious URLs were presenting themselves in ad auctions via at least 14 different ad exchanges at a rate of up to 1.5 billion requests to ad buyers a day.

The simple facts of that story alone are fascinating. It’s worth a read.

This is hardly the first big story about an excess of fraud and a dearth of transparency in digital advertising. Among many others, Bob “The Ad Contrarian” Hoffman has been ranting about this for years (most recently here and here).

It’s very difficult for even the biggest and most sophisticated advertisers to really understand who — not specifically but even just generally — is seeing their ads. That doesn’t mean digital advertising and programmatic ad networks are without value, but advertisers have to know what they’re getting into.

Rather than focus on raw reach and impression numbers, it’s crucial to know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish with your advertising and to have a plan for assessing whether you’re making progress toward that goal. And then, of course, I would highly recommend your advertising be paired with a broad, integrated marketing plan that includes email marketing, strategic content development, experiential engagement, and other tactics that are more likely to focus on real people instead of bots and fraud.