Ads.txt Experiencing Growing Pains, and What About Apps?

Ads.txt Experiencing Growing Pains and What About Apps?For the uninitiated, Ads.txt is an initiative launched by the IAB Tech Lab earlier this year. Ads.txt is a straightforward text file that publishers can upload onto their website listing certified inventory sellers for buyers. DSPs can select to bid on inventories only from authorised sellers and reject bids where the sellers are not listed on the Ads.txt file.

This solution has ambitions to eliminate domain spoofing and fake inventory fraud but totally disregards app inventories. Mobile apps account for 84.9% of total mobile time spent this year. Mobile users in the US are spending 2:25 hours a day in apps and only 0:26 in browsers on average. For advertisers and fraudsters alike, this means a large portion of investments into app environments for the mobile channel.

Ads.txt is completely domain based, so does not encompass apps. Take the example of major publishers like the Huffington Post or ESPN, they will have both browser and app inventory available. Buyers can access verified sellers via the Ads.txt text file for their browser inventory but have no way of verifying the app inventories from the same publisher. Today app domain names are still declarative in programmatic, leaving room to be spoofed. IAB Tech Lab should add a pre-requisite into Ads.txt files to link the declarative “app_domain” to publisher URLs to address app inventories.

Read More: The State of Ads.txt: Not a Big Clean-up Yet

Ads.txt remains an initiative that is based on self-regulation and network effect. We need an independent actor, such as the IAB to step in with a more proactive role as regulator. For example, if the publisher has not correctly implemented the text file, it is up to the DSP to find the flaw for now during the bidding stage. Or if the publisher and SSP have a miscommunication and forgets to pass the Publisher ID in the bid request, there will not be any matches for the demand side. Publishers have no way of knowing these errors and are dependent on the DSP to spot it in the bidding process and pass the information back.

For publishers selling multiple types of inventory, they need to implement distinct domains for each type to be Ads.txt compliant. These precise details take time to implement and it is also dependent on the DSP to find during bidding if there is a problem. Finally, Ads.txt is the first step to authorize sellers but we still need a system to authenticate each actor. A new rising Ads.txt fraud have also been reported where buyers pose as sellers to contact publishers for future arbitrage.

So far, the industry has seen a collective goodwill to self-regulate and challenge the “Buyers Beware” norm. However, an independent and active regulating body is imperative if we want to fully tackle and get ahead of anticipate increasingly sophisticated ad fraudsters. Today, the IAB is perfectly positioned to shoulder a regulator role for the industry.

Recommended Read: Don’t be the Guy Wearing the Fake Rolex: Support Ads.txt

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