Will Apple join latest industry fight against ad fraud?

The IAB Tech Lab has put forth a solution to address the problem of phony ads in apps

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Credit: Bloomberg

The Interactive Advertising Bureau's Tech Lab released a framework Friday to prevent a sophisticated form of ad fraud in apps that once wreaked havoc on the open web.

The framework, dubbed apps-ads.txt, prevents a type of fraud known as "domain spoofing," in which bad actors sell phony ads they say are from, for example, the New York Times, to marketers. This sort of fraud was previously rampant on the open web; the Financial Times last year reported that dozens of exchanges were selling its video ads programmatically, despite the fact that it only sells such inventory through Google and TrustX. Business Insider, meanwhile, said one advertiser thought they had purchased $40,000 worth of ad inventory from the publisher through the open exchanges, when in reality the publication only saw $97, indicating the rest of the money went to fraud.

But some major obstacles remain to implementing the framework widely. The two major distributors of apps – Google and Apple – must get on board. While Google is likely to adopt apps-ads.txt – it's one of the primary authors of the framework– it's unclear whether Apple will be as eager to do so.

"The biggest hurdle is the co-operation of the app stores," says Ian Trider, director of RTB platform operations at Centro, a DSP software provider. "The proposed solution, as it stands, involves the app stores to provide the necessary information."

Apple does not have deep ties to the ad industry nor does it have a close relationship with the IAB. Should Apple decide not to play ball there would still be an alternative on iOS, but that solution will likely be more cumbersome and require marketers to pay licensed third-parties for the necessary data. Trider says regardless of what Apple decides, Centro will be ready to implement apps-ads.txt by the first quarter of 2019.

"The key issue here is how easy or how hard the app stores make it to scan their pages," said one executive said, who asked to remain anonymous to protect industry relationships. "And Apple is the issue; they either don't care or they are hostile."

The move to apps-ads.txt would allow marketers who buy ads through demand side platforms to purchase legit ad inventory when making in-app ad buys as well as buys in over-the-top video apps. AppAnnie predicts more than $220 billion will be spent worldwide on in-app ads come 2021.

Apple did not immediately respond to request for comment. Apps-ads.txt is available for public comment through February 4.

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