Wednesday, November 22, 2017
 
Another Online Ad Fraud Scheme – And Of Course The Russians Are Behind It

WASHINGTON, D.C. Dec. 21 (DPI) – A three-year-old US internet security start-up held a conference call with major online advertisers this week explaining how a group of hackers – apparently in Russia – have developed an enormous network of fake online accounts, enabling it to steal millions in advertising dollars.

The internet ad-security company, White Ops, offered all this information to advertisers and web publishers as proof that criminals are using new levels of sophistication and resources to siphon money off third-party ad programs.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal – whose own sites have been the targets of such fraudulent activity – reported on and gave much credence to the story this week.

And while the report may be true, it is all largely unverifiable. Whatever the case and whatever the magnitude of the transgression, this latest description of an online ad fraud underscores what many veterans of print and digital publishing already believe: That digital display advertising, for all its promise,  is too opaque, and is often a sucker’s game of phony data, unverifiable results and shady intermediaries like third-party ad networks and exchanges.

As The Times wrote in its report on the Russian phony-ad scheme:

The scheme exploited known flaws in the system of digital advertising, including the lack of a consistent, reliable method for tracking ads and ensuring that they are shown to the promised audience.

Given that journalists simply must take the word of everyone involved – including a firm like White Ops – and nothing can be independently verified, it might be wise for advertisers to avoid any digital advertising that involves third-party ad networks.

Of course that is difficult  for an online advertiser to do. For one thing, much ad traffic seems to run through third-party networks, and it’s not clear that the advantages of online advertising – targeting ads based on a user’s profile and browsing history – can be realized without user data from those networks.

The safest approach to digital advertising still appears to be advertising directly through monopoly platforms like Google and Facebook, and even that strategy can have its drawbacks, experts say.

In any case, this recent report of a Russian-led ad theft certainly benefits the source – White Ops – which sells a software that claims to engage in “sophisticated invalid traffic detection.”  Once again, given that little can be independently verified, the report may simply be an imaginative publicity stunt by a start-up company –  or even a Hail Mary pass to improve business prospects.

The company’s CEO, Michael Tiffany, who is quoted in The Times article, is a young man who broadcasts on his linkedin.com profile that he never graduated from high school.

 

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