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blog: Don Marti

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Two approaches to adfraud, and some good news

07 July 2017

Adfraud is a big problem, and we keep seeing two basic approaches to it.

Flight to quality: Run ads only on trustworthy sites. Brands are now playing the fraud game with the "reputation coprocessors" of the audience's brains on the brand's side. (Flight to quality doesn't mean just advertise on the same major media sites as everyone else—it can scale downward with, for example, the Project Wonderful model that lets you choose sites that are "brand safe" for you.)

Increased surveillance: Try to fight adfraud by continuing to play the game of trying to get big-money impressions from the cheapest possible site, but throw more tracking at the problem. Biggest example of this is to move ad money to locked-down mobile platforms and away from the web.

The problem with the second approach is that the audience is no longer on the brand's side. Trying to beat adfraud with technological measures is just challenging hackers to a series of hacking contests. And brands keep losing those. Recent news: The Judy Malware: Possibly the largest malware campaign found on Google Play.

Anyway, I'm interested in and optimistic about the results of the recent Mozilla/Caribou Digital report. It turns out that USA-style adtech is harder to do in countries where users are (1) less accurately tracked and (2) equipped with blockers to avoid bandwidth-sucking third-party ads. That's likely to mean better prospects for ad-supported news and cultural works, not worse. This report points out the good news that the so-called adtech tax is lower in developing countries—so what kind of ad-supported businesses will be enabled by lower "taxes" and "reinvention, not reinsertion" of more magazine-like advertising?

Of course, working in those markets is going to be hard for big US or European ad agencies that are now used to solving problems by throwing creepy tracking at them. But the low rate of adtech taxation sounds like an opportunity for creative local agencies and brands. Maybe the report should have been called something like "The Global South is Shitty-Adtech-Proof, so Brands Built Online There Are Going to Come Eat Your Lunch."