As in any industry, programmatic advertising networks fall victim to counterfeit sales. Until recently, they were quite difficult to weed out, but in May 2017, IAB Tech Lab introduced Authorized Digital Sellers, or “ads.txt”, to create more transparency in programmatic advertising.

Ads.txt is a file hosted on the root domain of a website that indicates who is authorized to sell their advertising inventory. With ads.txt, the ad has to come from a verified buyer, advertiser, or agency.

Because of the inherent value in allowing anyone to sell, the process for checking on fraudulent ads needed more transparency. With ads.txt, anyone in the value chain has the ability to look into the legitimacy of a source, and sellers have a tag ID specifying if the inventory is direct or resell. Without ads.txt’s verifications, publishers and buyers have little recourse when they encounter various types of fraudulent activity, such as unauthorized reselling of inventory and counterfeit impressions.

Although it won’t solve every problem, ads.txt will make it much more difficult for fraudsters to get away with selling false ad-slots and misrepresented traffic.

Despite its simplicity and effectiveness, ads.txt was slow to take off due to little understanding of how it actually worked. However, the use of ads.txt files by the top 10,000 publishers went up from 12% in September to 44% by the end of October 2017—likely in part from Google’s announcement that their platforms will start filtering for the ads.txt tag.

Other major SSPs, such as Rubicon Project and AppNexus, have also joined ads.txt to promote more transparency in the industry. Large corporations, including CBS, NYTimes and TimeWarner, have followed suit in adding ads.txt files to their domains. SSPs are even implementing explanation and guidance tools for using ads.txt.

As the popularity of ads.txt grows, ad fraud will decrease and the industry overall will become more transparent. Those at the forefront of ads.txt initiatives hope to increase its global adoption as well as move into mobile app inventory in the coming months.

HDMZ takes ad fraud seriously, and we have implemented various safeguards to maintain brand safety and verified impressions. Drop us a line to learn more.