IAB Australia is partnering with IAB Tech Lab, a global research and development consortium charged with developing and implementing global digital advertising industry technical standards.

In an interview with Which-50 representatives from IAB discussed the new partnership and the industry’s fraud problem, which the IAB contends is not as rampant as critics have suggested and is steadily improving.

IAB Australia said they will now have direct access to the tools and standards necessary to grow the local industry in a sustainable way and keep up with global standards. 

The independent IAB Tech Lab develops industry standards, software and services. It was spun off from the IAB trade group so it could include non-IAB members and better develop global standards and protocols.

“Without technical standards, in some cases we would have horrible inefficiency in the industry, we’d have an inability of parties to work together,” said Dennis Buchheim, Senior VP and GM of the IAB Tech Lab.

Buchheim said the organisation focuses primarily on the digital advertising supply chain, measurement, consumer experience, and data.

Dennis Buchheim, Senior VP and GM of the IAB Tech Lab

Previously IAB Australia had no formal affiliation with IAB Tech Lab, and instead relied on IAB Tech Lab’s “goodwill”, creating a potential lag for the Australian market when new standards were developed and implemented.

The formal partnership also means IAB Australia members are now more easily able to make market specific contributions to Tech Lab working groups, a “critical next step”, according to Buchheim.

“A lot of what we do is certainly adopted on a global basis but we know it can be informed upfront by market specific needs and then has champions to take it to scale,” he told Which-50.

Ad Fraud and its spruikers

One of the driving factors, although IAB Australia insists, not the only one, of the partnership and the continued development of standards and protocols is to combat digital advertising fraud. Ad fraud is a scam where agencies and brands are tricked into paying for fake traffic and leads.

Bad actors are expected to cost the industry $44 billion by 2022 and the practice has attracted recent investigations from the FBI

A Which-50 deep dive on the issue last week revealed several critics arguing the fraud problem is extensive and industry players have little incentive to clean it up.

However, the IAB contends the problem is getting better and the global industry standards approach is the best way to address it.

“Cleaning up fraud is not easy. And it’s particularly difficult if you’re just one vendor as an island, trying to stamp out fraud. It really needs to be something dealt with more systematically across the ecosystem and that’s where we’re trying to help,” said IAB Tech Lab’s Buchheim.

He said the industry had become much more proactive in addressing the problem and ultimately there is an industry-wide benefit in stamping the practice out.

When pressed on attitude of supply-chain middlemen like adtechs Jonas Jaanimagi, IAB Australia Technical Consultant told Which-50 “All I’ve seen from them is support and investment in terms of IP, talent, and time [fighting fraud],” Jaanimagi said also arguing critics had overstated the problem and had a vested interest in doing so.

“The people that are making money out of it are the fraud researchers and the cybersecurity firms that love to spruik and cause fear in market so they can get more work.”

According to Jaanimagi industry commentators also benefit from overstating the fraud problem by using the “easy and provocative subject matter to gain more page views”.

Presumably, he means easy and provocative subject matter like this;

The negative attention has unfortunately detracted from much of the progress the industry has made, he said.

Most fraud involvement from adtechs in the past had occurred unknowingly or was a product of their own “laziness”, says Buchheim, where fraud fell below the priority of other issues in a rapidly growing market. But eventually, as fraud was uncovered brands and publishers responded, questioning digital ad spend and effectively forcing vendors’ hand.

Buchheim says overall the industry is being more proactive than ever in fighting fraud.

“What happened now is there’s enough of a groundswell in the industry to say ‘ok this thing has grown so quickly and become so big and so important’. Wherever there is a commercial benefit there will be bad actors and now there’s a recognition I think, more than we’ve ever seen, to be active in improving it, cleaning it up.”

Ads.txt adoption

Ads.txt is one of the tools the IAB Tech Lab has developed to combat fraud and a potential example of the type of initiatives IAB Australia will now be formally accessing and contributing to.

Launched last year, ads.txt is a pre-formatted index of authorised sellers that publishers can post to their domains. Programmatic buyers can then use these publisher ads.txt files to screen for fake or misrepresented inventory.

Bucheim said the vast majority of top publishers have adopted ads.txt but the rapid growth and the diversity of publishers made it difficult to track.

Ads.txt is closing in on 3 million domains globally, according to Bucheim, but it is “particularly hard” to measure specific uptake by the industry because “you don’t know exactly how many domains constitute real critical mass of the supply”.

“The exchanges are definitely giving us good signals. We are getting extremely good coverage.”

Uploading and maintaining ads.txt lists does require a manual component and the initiative can be undone by simple formatting errors. It means publishers have to take some responsibility in regards to maintaining the file, according to Jaanimagi.

“Don’t get the admin person that comes in twice a week to do it. Make sure it’s your head of tech ops or someone suitable that maintains it,” he said.

“Part of the ask here is a bit of a lift by the publishers to keep this up to date,” Buchheim added.

“To recognise, make sure you know who you are doing business with. If you don’t or you don’t take responsibility for who you put in that file then you are contributing to the problem.”

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