“As a result of this elaborate scheme, defendants falsified billions of ad views and caused businesses to pay more than $7 million for ads that real human internet users never actually saw,” the Justice Department said.Although This New York Times Named a “victim” by the Justice Department, the publication declined to clarify whether it paid for viewing false advertisements or whether its website was duped by one of Zhukov’s fake sites. Nestlé, Purina’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.
Some companies have taken matters into their own hands. In 2017, Uber sued one of its ad companies for charging it for ads that weren’t seen by real people or placed on real websites. The case began when Uber took down all online advertising and found little or no drop in app installs or sales. Why? Some claim that online advertising is targeting people who have already planned to buy the product or service. Others argue that ads are often aimed at bots. But it’s hard to get a straight answer. Companies that pay for advertising have an incentive to downplay the number of bots to hide how much cash they waste. Cybersecurity companies have an incentive to inflate numbers to sell anti-bot products.
Technology already exists to detect and block bots, said Sandy Carielli, principal analyst specializing in cybersecurity at consulting firm Forrester. But she said companies may be reluctant to investigate traffic that ostensibly makes their sites look popular. “Keep in mind that if you cut out bots and it turns out that a lot of traffic on your site is being generated by bots, this will affect your performance numbers.”
Advertising doesn’t always work that way. Augustine Fou, who has worked in digital marketing for 25 years, says fake traffic has exploded over the past decade. Fou believes the industry was corrupt about a decade ago, when a series of opaque middlemen entered the scene. “Before this, advertisers would buy ads from publishers, such as This New York Times,” he said. But now, brands typically turn to digital ad exchanges — which facilitate the buying and selling of ads from different ad networks — to place their ads on a plethora of websites and apps. Fou claims that it is This part of the system becomes vulnerable to bots.
“When fraudulent websites and mobile apps became part of exchanges, exchanges deliberately did it the other way,” he claimed. Google and Facebook are among the companies that operate these exchanges, along with other U.S.-listed companies such as Pubmatic and Magnite. “Ad exchanges don’t want to address fraud because fraud generates so much volume,” Fou claims. “Exchanges essentially make more money when more volume goes through their platforms.” None of the exchanges responded to a request for comment.
It’s not just exchanges that appear to be dodging fraud concerns. Advertisers are also reluctant, Fou said. “It’s embarrassing for them to admit that they bought fraudulent inventory.” He cited a rare prosecution attempt by Uber when it found that Austin-based advertising firm Phunware was using bots to sell fake app installs. After winning the fraud suit, Uber’s law firm Reed Smith said: “Phunware claims that the majority of Uber app installs delivered were generated by a fraudulent process known as ‘click flooding’, which reported higher clicks than actual The number of clicks that occurred.”
“Many people still think of ad fraud as a victimless crime,” Fou said. “After all, who cares if big brands waste money showing ads to bots?” But he added that the industry is letting ad dollars flow into the pockets of cybercriminals, who can then use it to fund other illegal activities. In his view, this is a big problem. “No one talks, no one writes, and everyone thinks it’s someone else’s problem.”