Ad Fraud Hasn’t Come to Audio – Or Has It?

Ad Fraud Hasn’t Come to Audio – Or Has It?

When we think of ad fraud, we tend to think of things like PPC ads, mobile apps, and video streaming platforms. What we normally call ad or click fraud is very easily perpetrated in a display environment. It is much harder to pull off with streaming audio. But that doesn’t mean ad fraud in the audio space is nonexistent.

Advertisers and audio platforms have long said that they don’t see a lot of ad fraud in the audio space. But recent discoveries by a number of ad fraud detection services seem to counter those claims. Granted, ad fraud in audio streams is not nearly as prevalent compared to display ads, but at least some experts say that audio streams are becoming more attractive to fraudsters.

Monthly losses from ad fraud in audio are estimated at roughly $1 million right now. Compared to the amounts lost via PPC ads, website banner ads, etc., that’s not a lot. But in terms of sheer dollars and cents, $1 million constitutes a significant monthly loss for advertisers.

How Ad Fraud Works

Ad fraud is a crime that works by fraudulently creating charges for advertisers by faking clicks, impressions, views, etc. One of the most common forms of ad fraud is click fraud, a scenario in which a fraudster simulates fake clicks knowing that every click represents a charge against the advertiser.

Media channels involving visual display are easy targets for fraudsters. With PPC ads, there are numerous ways to artificially inflate clicks. On a video streaming platform, there are multiple ways to simulate impressions. It is all due to the fact that, when display is involved, it is usually linked to actual human activity – i.e., people moving around websites, clicking links, and so forth. Audio streams do not work that way. They are almost entirely passive.

How They Do It with Audio

Because audio streams are passive, advertising networks cannot rely on human activity to determine when to serve up ads. They need to assume that listeners will start a stream and then go do something else while it plays in the background. Ad networks need some other way to determine whether a stream is actually being listened to.

To that end, they have ways of measuring streams to tell whether they are valid or not. Fraudsters are fully aware of their methods. And guess what? They have figured out how to simulate an actual stream capable of fooling advertisers and publishers alike.

A simulated stream looks every bit as legitimate as a genuine one. Software designed to detect streams pick up on the simulations and count them as real. As a result, ads are served under the assumption that people are listening. But because the streams are simulated rather than real, the ads are not actually reaching anybody.

Perhaps It’s Bigger Than People Think

A big question on a lot of people’s minds is how big ad fraud is in the audio space. Advertisers, publishers, and audio platform operators generally agree that it isn’t a big problem. But perhaps it’s a bigger problem than they believe. Maybe they think it’s a minor issue because they don’t know how to look for it, or just haven’t tried.

In the audio space, the advertisers facing the biggest risks are those that purchase ads programmatically. Buying programmatically is often left to automation. Software is set up to seek out and purchase ads based on traffic and other factors. There is no human being physically intervening to make ad buy choices.

Programmatic buying relies on software to analyze whether streams are legitimate. As long as fraudsters know how to simulate streams, an automated programmatic buying scheme would be vulnerable.

Ad Fraud Software Is Still Valuable

If the ad fraud problem is bigger in the audio space than most people realize, then what about ad fraud detection software? Is it incapable of doing the job? Is it not worth investing in? No. Absolutely not.

According to the developers behind the Fraud Blocker ad fraud protection package, specialized software is still one of the best tools to fight fraudulent clicks, impressions, etc. Like any other tool, ad fraud detection software cannot completely stop fraudulent activity on its own. But combined with other tools and human security experts, it can be immensely helpful in identifying and rooting out fraud.

Some anti-fraud packages are already sophisticated enough to seek out fraud in the audio space. As audio ad fraud increases, more software developers will get on board. The software will eventually catch up as need dictates. In the meantime, advertisers and publishers should not just assume that the audio space isn’t at risk.

Never Take Security for Granted

Ad fraud across all media platforms costs advertisers billions of dollars annually. Yet for some reason, a lot of advertisers and publishers are still looking at ad fraud the same way PC users looked at viruses and malware 20 years ago. Still, the threat is real. It should not be ignored.

The key to fighting all sorts of ad fraud is to never take security for granted. Never assume that what you are doing is safe, or that it cannot be breached by creative hackers. Those who would seek to steal from advertisers will not stop trying regardless of the security measures implemented against them. With every new security measure, they will search for a workaround.

The unfortunate truth is that there will be no clear winner in this ongoing battle. As long as digital media and the internet continue to be a central part of modern culture, fraudsters will continue doing what they do. It is up to security experts, advertisers, and publishers to keep up. When they can get ahead, they should obviously do so.

Ad fraud in the audio space might not be as prevalent compared to other channels. But it is likely more widespread than experts are ready to admit. We need to go look for it, figure out how it works, and find ways to stop it.

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