Google plans to give bigger refunds to marketers who lose money to ad fraud on its platform.
Customers of DoubleClick Bid Manager, where marketers buy digital ads through Google, will automatically recieve full refunds for ad fraud they suffer there, according to the company. The news comes a few weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was issuing refunds to advertisers whose ads reached bots instead of humans, but only for its fees of 7 percent to 10 percent, not the whole cost of wasted ad spending.
The new policy only applies to inventory acquired through Google supply partners AppNexus, Index Exchange, OpenX, Teads, Telaria and DoubleClick Ad Exchange, though Google estimates they, along with others, comprise 90% of the available inventory on DoubleClick Bid Manager. It takes effect sometime in the coming months.
Google had been refunding only its fees because the digital ad chain is complex, with multiple intermediaries taking cuts of any spending. One dollar spent on an ad on The New York Times, for example, gets divided up between sell-side platforms, buy-side platforms, various ad tech companies and, finally, the publisher itself.
The issue became more important to marketers, who have lived with ad fraud for years, because of powerful scams that had begun to penetrate even Google's highly-regarded defenses. The type of fraud that recently afflicted Google was beyond sophisticated, and one that the tech power had never seen before, Rob Norman, chief digital officer at the ad buying network GroupM, tells Ad Age.
"Nobody knows the type of fraud that went down," Norman says. "There will always be doping in the Olympics or Tour de France."
"Every now and then the cheaters will get ahead," he adds. "People were not aware of this type of fraud technology, but Google worked through its policy and language and made marketers whole."
Norman did say, however, that the fraud was able to succeed due to a "gap in the supply chain."
Though word of fuller refunds should be welcome to DoubleClick Bid Manager customers, other platforms such as AppNexus or Index Exchange already had similar measures in place.
Google increases transparency
Google said it will also provide marketers with new features that will show the amount of invalid traffic detected in their campaigns before they bid and after an ad is served. The data will provide details such as whether the invalid traffic came from data centers, questionable browsers or inventory that is falsely represented.
Google's supply partners will also get new data on invalid traffic found on their platforms, according to the company.
"By providing our customers and supply partners with access to this data we hope to provide more transparency into the sources of invalid traffic, facilitate conversations with third parties, and make sure our clients' media spend does not enrich bad actors," Payam Shodjai, director of product management for DoubleClick Bid Manager, said in a statement.
Embracing a new weapon
In a separate move, Google gave a boost to one effort to make ad fraud much harder in general.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau in May released a blueprint for a way to, in theory, prevent bad actors from selling counterfeit inventory to marketers.
Its ads.txt regime blocks fraudsters from selling inventory that claims it's from ESPN, for example, but in reality comes from some sketchy website that nobody has ever heard of. Bad actors today can do that sort of thing because the complexity in the digital ecosystem makes it easy for anyone to masquerade as a top-tier publisher. Ads.txt attempts to address that by acting like little chips found in credit cards; it's almost like a secondary level of authentication for a buyer and seller to create a digital handshake and say, "Yes, this inventory is real."
The biggest obstacle to ads.txt is adoption. But Google said Thursday it will eventually only buy from authorized sources as defined by a publishers ads.txt file, putting significant weight behind the project.
Ads.txt "defines a simple method for publishers to publicly declare who is authorized to sell or resell their digital advertising inventory," Shodjai said. "We believe the ads.txt standard is a significant step forward in the fight against ad fraud, and by the end of October, DoubleClick Bid Manager will only buy a publisher's inventory from sources identified as authorized sellers in its ads.txt file when a file is available."