“As marketers, we are constantly reminding ourselves and our clients to be genuine in every communication we have, making it extremely frustrating to learn when the digital ads we so carefully craft are not going to the right people, or worse, are reported as going to our target audiences but really aren’t thanks to ad bots,” Kimberly Dunn, marketing director for ad:tech, said in a statement.
Those people who have spent the last ten to fifteen years generating fraudulent traffic on the web have now moved into the mobile sector. Click and install fraud is widespread. Click fraud comes from bots, jailbroken devices and misleading banner ads. CPA clicks simply involve having a robot program doing all the actions needed to qualify.
Ad networks check the reliability of a source and conversion of clicks to installs. Of course, if a conversion rate of click to install is close to a 100% the traffic is likely to come from bots. Therefore a common strategy for fraudsters is to blend bot traffic to demonstrate desired properties, sell it to legitimate networks and reap profits.
Security firm White Ops estimates that online fraud is two to four times bigger than mobile, but the latter is a growing area of concern for publishers. There are a few ways that cyber criminals set up mobile bots, but the most common method requires someone to lie about how they are accessing the Internet. A set of code—called a user agent—shows if a bot is coming from a smartphone or a desktop, which then triggers an ad request for a website. As more publishers scour their sites for fraud, some suspect vendors are taking on mobile identities to cover their tracks. “That actually dupes a lot of targeting systems—just lying about their user agent strings does not require a lot of technical sophistication,” explained White Ops CEO Michael Tiffany.
Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder of search and analytics firm Moat, added that some publishers are doubling their mobile inventory yearly, which can open the door to even more bogus traffic. “They find the cracks where there’s money,” Goodhart said.
To avoid mobile ad fraud, use a sophisticated app tracker and check which sources bring real paying users rather than dead installs. Look for references and recommendations when buying advertising or rely on programmatic ad buying. This will hopefully make it harder and harder for fraudsters to trick the system.