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How To Identify and Defend Against Mobile and App Ad Fraud [video]

Reading Time: 10 minutes
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Jennifer Burrington, our Global VP of Sales, spoke at App Promotion Summit London 2019 about “How to identify and defend against mobile and app ad fraud.

If video’s aren’t your thing, then have a read of this transcript instead:

“I just want to say it’s a real pleasure to be here. I’m from the United States. It’s always fun to jump away from the US and pretend for a minute that Donald Trump is not our president. I’m a little bit ashamed of that, so hey, it’s not my fault. Today I really want to talk to you about mobile app install ad fraud. It’s something that I’m very passionate about and I’ll explain that here momentarily. Okay. So I don’t normally toot my own horn as we say in the States. That’s not my nature, but I would say this, there’s a reason that I feel I have some expertise on mobile app install ad fraud and that is, I’ve spent the entirety of my career 20 years now. I can’t believe it, in mobile. So I’ve really helped shape the mobile industry. I started out right out of college in 1999 for a telecommunications company called sprint.

And I spent five-and-a-half years there, really learning some fundamental marketing tactics. And then I moved to Silicon Valley and got into mobile gaming with electronic arts. So I got that point of view from a publisher side of the business to really understand what content was about. And then being in Silicon Valley I realized that I needed to join a startup. So I joined a company called Gray Stripe as the fifth employee and I spent six years building a mobile ad network, which was acquired successfully in 2011. Lastly, I spent some time recently at an attribution company called Kochava, learning a lot of ins-and-outs of the data processing, of the way app install is being managed and last-click attribution and all types of influence reporting and looking at networks more closely and tracking and integration. So, this experience has really laid a foundation for me. 

And the truth is I’m incredibly passionate about finding a way to mitigate ad fraud because I don’t like it when bad-guys win.

And right now the bad guys are making a lot of money. I would rather that money be pumped back into this industry so that we all can benefit from it and find really good, high-quality users and that the high-quality users will continue to have a positive user experience, which I think we can all agree is a much better way to build this industry. So that being said, unfortunately I have some kind of dismal statistics to share with you. And this is not to generate fear, but it’s more just a wake-up call. The reality is as of 2015, one out of every $3 on ad spend was going to ad fraud. 

We’re in 2019. We know that it’s more than that, and crazily enough, mobile ad and attribution fraud is next to organized crime, after gun smuggling and narcotics and human trafficking, which is not something that we need to have in this industry. And lastly, the prediction is that it’s going to be $50 billion by 2025, as of 2018 it was $19 billion. So we’re actually rapidly heading that direction. And the truth is, is that people don’t really know what ad fraud is and how it exists and the fraudsters like it that way. And they keep iterating to keep you guys on your toes. So why is this the case? Why do we kind of know about mobile ad fraud but we don’t understand it? Why is it such a problem that’s growing rapidly and why isn’t anyone really doing anything about it? 

These are the questions that I’ve been asking. And again, the reason why I joined Interceptd, is because I’m really wanting to answer these questions. The truth is there’s a lack of education and knowledge in the industry. So, I’ve spoken to many people even here today that say ‘I don’t really know what mobile ad fraud is, I don’t know what it looks like, I don’t know if it’s real, I don’t know how to detect it, and I certainly wouldn’t understand how to stop it’.  Can any of you just raise your hands … and let me know if any of your marketing dollars have gone to ad fraud or fraudulent installs. Does anybody in the room know if they’ve lost money to ad fraud? … Some know and some don’t. 

Some are completely blind. The whole goal of Interceptd is to really drive that education and awareness. So we’re gonna spend some time today just talking about what mobile ad fraud looks like and how we’ve spent some time identifying. It and nothing to be scared of, it’s something to face head-on. And the sooner that we start looking at it, the easier it’s gonna be to find those high-quality users and generate more ROI for your app and really help this whole industry elevate, as it should be. Secondly, the other real issue is the reporting and metrics. So I don’t know, specifically how all of you are running your business. But I do know historically, coming from Silicon Valley, where there’s a lot of VC-backed content, that reporting metrics on just installs is a very common metric to look at growth. 

Really the industry should be looking at is high-quality users, sticky content, users that are generating revenue, in-app purchases, converting them down the funnel.

These are the metrics that actually drive quality users versus just looking at random installs. Because the truth is once you pay $5 to get an install, if that user never comes back to the app or that fake user never comes back to the app, then you just lost $5 and you didn’t get any further down the path of driving return on your ad spend (ROAS). So again, I think awareness, education and really changing the way these metrics are being reported to the CMOs, the CEOs, the VCs is another way that we can shift this industry and have an impact on mobile ad fraud. So this is a global ad fraud distribution chart from Interceptd. 

How To Identify and Defend Against Mobile and App Ad Fraud

We spent 2018 recording millions and hundreds of thousands of clicks and installs and post-install events and we’ve kind of categorized the ad fraud into the buckets where we see the most problems. So what’s interesting here is that you can see a few trends happening just in one year and we’ll be continuing to chart this year over year and looking at it more closely. But one of the things that you can notice here is that there are some things that are on the decline. For example, device farming. So, device farming is actually a very expensive ad fraud tactic. And so the ad fraudsters don’t want to invest in aggregating these devices and farming them for their mobile ad fraud tactics because they realize that it costs them too much money. That one’s on the decline. What you will see is that some things are kind of on a steady, regular pace. For example, click injection, which is a very common form of ad fraud, doesn’t cost a lot of money and you know it is a quick and dirty way to win a bounty. 

So that’s phenomenal. Most importantly, I think what’s important to take away from this and something that I’m still learning, so this is ever-changing, fraudsters are always iterating and involving, the newest more powerful form of ad fraud. It’s called SDK spoofing. That’s when a fraudster actually hacks your attribution [tool] or your MMP SDK that sits inside your content and they actually make activity, mimic that of a real install and so you think you’ve got this really great active user when actually you don’t, it’s not real. It’s all hacked from software SDK spoofing. Again, this is not to scare you, it is to drive awareness and to let you know these things really do exist. There are people, there are businesses that are operating legitimately in their minds and they are winning these bounties and they’re making billions of dollars capitalizing on these CPI install bounties. I would like to say that if you want to learn more, we do have a booth so we can dig in more to these metrics with you today. 

We have a booth in the main hall. You can come by and talk to us so we can dig in a little bit more. So just a high level, these are some of the ad fraud types that Interceptd looks at and these are some of the alarms that we use to detect those mobile ad fraud types. So, I don’t want to put you to sleep reading each one of these, but just to give you an idea has really taken time to look inside or ‘under the hood’ of the ‘ad fraud-car’ so to speak. And by doing that we have created statistical deterministic and probabilistic alarms that essentially will detect the ad fraud for you in real-time. This is ever-changing. Again, this is not static. This is something that’s incredibly dynamic as the fraudsters evolve. 

So how does Interceptd help you improve the value chain? Because at the end of the day, the reason I’m here today is to explain to you how we at Interceptd can help you get a better return on your ad spend (ROAS). We actually want to make you a more effective and efficient marketer and that’s what our tools do. So it’s a very simple tool to test and we’re actually offering a free two-week trials right now. If you want to just check it out and see what your campaign inventory looks like. But you just simply tag your traffic sources. So, whether it’s an ad network or an agency or affiliate, you create a tagging code, you add that tagging URL to your traffic, and Interceptd is just this really beautiful, real-time software filter that redirects your marketing campaigns. 

So the tool actually enables you to move away from the post-campaign deduction reporting manual process (with an Excel spreadsheet) to a real-time alarm-based mobile ad fraud detection tool. So it’s actually a very, very simple layer. There’s no SDK you need to integrate into your app to test this at all. It’s phenomenal the amount of mobile fraud that you can capture very quickly. Apart from the ad fraud filters, the alarms and all the detection that we do, we also offer Interceptd campaign in our optimization tool. What this does, is it helps you understand what channels are going to be driving those high-quality users and where you can optimize and throttle up. And understand what networks might be having some sub-publishers that are fraudulent and you can turn those off. So, it gives you a lot of flexibility as a marketer, to dig in a little bit more and understand what’s happening. I like to say we’re opening the curtain, right? We’re letting you just look out the window a little bit and understand what’s going on with your campaigns. Because the truth is this is your brand, this is your brand that’s being representing to the consumer in the markets and you want your brand to have a great market representation. 

So, this is a simple case study. I can’t, unfortunately, share the client, but I can tell you this. This is a paid client. They did a free trial. They converted. They are now a paying client. They’re very happy with the service. They came to Interceptd, they’re in an e-commerce app. They specifically wanted to look at one network. They thought the data wasn’t adding up. So, something seemed off between their installs and their clicks and their post-install events. So I like to say we ran it through the ‘ad fraud washing machine’ and what came out was, interestingly, about 10% of the clicks we labeled as fraudulent. But that was a little bit ‘higher funnel’, looking at things like operating-system and anonymous proxies, which are pretty hard to detect as far as getting to a granular level. 

But by the time we got to the installs, we saw 55% ad fraud.

So this is something really phenomenal about what Interceptd has built. Because of the fraud tools that we’ve put in place, we’re able to identify the likeliness of mobile ad fraud when we get down to the install and the post-install event level. What was determined by the client and Interceptd was that there were a lot of sub-publisher sites that had fraudulent installs and those installs were just essentially not real users, but they were coming through as, as real installs. So we cleaned that up for them and help[ed] them generate awareness with the publisher and the ad network that these are areas that they can turn off. So that’s what they did. They informed the ad network. The ad network has access to the software as well. 

It’s a very simple tool, they can log in. So, you can communicate with each other and say, ‘Listen, I’m seeing this bad traffic, Interceptd caught this bad traffic. Can we turn off these publishers from your site? I want to continue to throttle up here where I’m seeing great active users, but I want to turn this stuff off and see if it cleans up my signal a little bit’. So this is just a simple case study to show you how one ad network can be looked at with Interceptd. So, one thing I forgot to mention at the beginning of my talk was, I have a good friend John, he’s head of user acquisition at a gaming company. I’m fortunate I spent 10 years in the Bay area. So many of my good friends, colleagues and former clients who have gone on to do really phenomenal things and work for very big brands, mainly in user acquisition. 

John and I probably catch up two or three times a year. He has been completely transparent with me that he knows 30% of his user acquisition budget goes to ad fraud and he’s not doing anything about it. And they see it as a sunk cost right now because he has these very aggressive growth goals. I’m going to see John in a few weeks at MAU in Las Vegas and I can’t wait to bring Interceptd to them. I’m gonna say, ‘hey, try it for two weeks and look at the ad fraud, take a look at the mobile ad fraud that’s coming through your channels. You can decide how hard you want to tighten the knobs and the levers but, start to look at this and really help identify where you’re going to find those high-quality users and get rid of the mobile ad fraud in your gaming company because he represents a very large brand. 

What’s so phenomenal to me is that, and exciting about this opportunity is that you should be able to see ROI within three months of integrating Interceptd fraud tool. So it’s not something that’s going to cost you more. It’s something that’s gonna route your marketing dollars and actually make them more effective. It’s not going to hurt your bottom line, which is something that’s really important to take to your CEO and CMO. So, I’m here with my colleagues. We’ve got two co-founders here, we’ve got a chief product officer, we’ve got a chief technology officer, we’ve got our head of business development in the UK. We have a booth. Please come talk to us. We would love to help provide some education and awareness for you and your brand. Thank you so much for your time.

If you’d like to try one of those awesome free trials, Jennifer talked about at her speech at AGS, get started here. You can even schedule a call with Jennifer!