Increasing amounts of publishers are transitioning from print to digital to widen their virtual presence, following restrictions on physical experiences to limit the spread of COVID-19. Many publishers are launching apps for users and subscribers alike to maintain and extend their reach while enhancing revenue. Some have turned to paywalls or in-app purchases to fund their new digital outlets, though the vast majority are bolstering their business with mobile advertising, keeping access open for all.

However, publishers are losing vital advertising revenue to ad fraud, which last year siphoned $42 billion worth of advertising revenue by misrepresenting impressions, clicks, conversion or data events. While the world hangs in a limbo of uncertainty, it’s important publishers know how to protect themselves against app spoofing and secure their revenue.

Welcome to the mobile apps’ masquerade

A problem which is growing in prevalence among mobile app publishers is app spoofing, where a fake, low volume or brand unsafe app disguises itself as a premium app, like The Financial Times for example. Lower end apps mimic the digital footprint of reputable apps to garner higher Cost Per Mille (CPM). A lucrative and quick way for inferior apps to steal carefully allocated advertising revenue.

This “attractive” fraud operation is successful as many anti-fraud technologies aren’t able to detect app spoofing pre-bid. This means fraud is only visible after an ad impression has been served and the revenue stolen, located by spotting a mismatch in the bundle ID codes.

App spoofing is not a solo operation

App spoofing may seem like a problem solely for advertisers losing budget to fraudsters, but publishers are equally affected. App spoofing prevents vital revenue from reaching publishers and can also cause significant damage to reputation. Often, if an advertiser believes their ads ran on the intended app but they failed to meet their campaign goals, they might avoid running their ads with that publisher for poor performance, without knowing app spoofing caused objectives to be missed.

Advertisers can protect publishers from app spoofing by using advanced technology solutions which catch apps in the act of intercepting ad impressions. Blocking app spoofing pre-bid is vital to prevent advertising budgets being stolen. This is achieved with smart technology that checks in real-time if bid requests are coming from a legitimate app owner or not. Illegitimate requests can then be easily filtered out and the fraudulent app is blacklisted. Alongside catching fraudulent activity pre-bid, it’s also important advertisers are able to keep an up-to-date anti-spoof safelist of trusted and verified publishers.

For app-spoofing, catching fraud pre-bid and applying antispoof safelists are key, though advertisers need to be vigilant for other types of fraud which could damage profits, brand reputation and negatively impact publishers. Ad fraud takes many forms to increase fraudsters’ chances of stealing revenue from unsuspecting advertisers and publishers. For instance, click spamming is a popular type of mobile ad fraud, which involves scammers overwhelming anti-fraud systems by sending a wave of fake click reports in the hope some are accepted. Background ad activity is also a prevalent fraud method, which charges advertisers for fake ad impressions by displaying ads in the background away from legitimate users.

With a diverse range of digital ad fraud at play, it’s important technology chosen to fight fraud can detect, block and future-proof against as much fraudulent activity as possible. Fraud is constantly evolving and anti-fraud solutions must match this growth stride for stride.

Preventing app spoofing needs cooperation

Publishers can also prevent fraud by following industry best-practices. This can be achieved by providing an apps-ads.txt file, which stipulates which parties are authorized to sell or resell their inventory.  The DSPs use this file for validation. By providing and actively updating this file, publishers are committing to the IAB’S anti-fraud practices for transparency, an important standard to meet within the advertising industry.

The IAB’s anti-fraud practices for transparency involve the apps-ads.text using a developer domain to create a universal namespace, helping buyers to identify and block instances of unauthorized impersonations. This helps keep valuable advertising revenue where it belongs, with the intended publishers.

Securing revenue by adopting this simple solution lets buyers select high-quality inventory from the marketplace. Many major Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) have transitioned to exclusively buying app-ads.txt inventory, so providing this file not only prevents fraud but allows publishers to capture better revenue streams. In addition, advertisers are often willing to pay a premium for app-ads.txt compliant inventory as it is less susceptible to fraud, providing a greater chance of hitting marketing campaign objectives.

Close the curtains on app spoofing

Ad fraud remains a serious issue which impacts both advertisers and publishers, who lose out when fraudsters intercept valuable advertising budgets. Keeping fraudsters at bay has never been more important. The publishing ecosystem relies on advertising to support excellent news reporting, flashy games and new music. As the UK’s economic outlook remains uncertain due to the impact of COVID-19, ensuring these outlets receive the revenue they deserve has never been needed more.

Publishers can make sure they stamp out app spoofing by complying with the IAB’s anti-fraud best practices and advertisers can help by investing in anti-fraud technology which stops mobile ad fraud before revenue is stolen. Fighting fraud is relentless and keeping up with all its shifting forms is impossible alone. However, with smart anti-fraud solutions, alert advertisers and proactive publishers, fraudsters will struggle to reach the publishing industry’s cashflows.

Antoine Barbier, SVP of Product, Ogury

About: Ogury is the creator of the first advertising engine driven by user choice. Ogury is a global organization with 400+ employees across 10 countries, working with 1500+ brands and 3500+ publishers to establish a trusted digital advertising ecosystem, driven by user choice. Ogury Advertising Engine is an integrated stack of technology, from consent management to user engagement, designed and optimized for branding campaigns on mobile.