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Helping the industry prevent the sale of counterfeit inventory with ads.txt

By Neal Richter

Today, we’re announcing an important new standard as part of OpenRTB, called ads.txt. While its mission is simple, to increase transparency in the programmatic advertising ecosystem, we believe it will have an oversized impact in reducing ad fraud across the ecosystem.

When an advertiser buys media programmatically, they rely on the fact that the URLs they purchase are accurate and were legitimately offered by those publishers. However, it is difficult for a buyer to confirm if the entities responsible for selling those impressions via real-time bidding (RTB) have authorization to do so. While every impression already includes publisher information from the OpenRTB protocol, via the page URL and Publisher.ID, there is no standard to allow the buyer’s systems to cross-reference those IDs and confirm authenticity / validity of the bid request. This leaves the ecosystem open for bad actors to inject and blend counterfeit inventory in with legitimate traffic.

Let’s illustrate the impact counterfeit inventory can have on the advertising industry with an example. Imagine you just got a great deal on new pair of shoes from a brand you have always admired, but unknowingly they were a great deal because they were actually counterfeit. The first day you wear them they completely fall apart, and you blame the bad experience on the brand and vow to never buy that brand again. The counterfeiter used the power of the shoe’s brand to make a sale and the legitimate brand didn’t receive any compensation, but more importantly, this lower-quality, lesser product harmed the brands reputation.

Counterfeit digital inventory can come in many forms, but it typically results in real media spend not reaching legitimate and deserving publishers. This unauthorized inventory can be created with a number of strategies including relabeled URLs and domains, misrepresented apps, or changed formats.

The ads.txt project aims to address the issues caused by counterfeit inventory by giving content owners and distributors a simple, flexible, and secure way to declare who is authorized to sell their inventory. This additional transparency will give advertisers and programmatic buyers a means to know and validate the authentic sources of media in real-time as well as making it harder for bad actors to profit from selling counterfeit inventory across the ecosystem.

Counterfeit inventory is a problem that everyone in the digital advertising ecosystem needs to address. By working together on standards like ads.txt we can remove bad actors from the ecosystem and ensure advertiser spend is reaching legitimate publishers.

Read our press release

Learn more about the proposed ads.txt standard and participate in the open comment period







Neal Richter, Consulting Data Scientist, Hebbian Labs, and IAB Tech Lab OpenRTB Co-Chair