This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
All eyes are on the small screen. Consumers spend five hours daily on their smartphones, and most of that time goes to apps, where ads are part of the experience (see, for instance, playable ads) and are thoroughly measured via mobile attribution solutions. More and more marketers are now spending the bulk of their budget on mobile ads, siphoning budget away from TV and desktop web.
But for all its appeal, there are problems with mobile advertising, and some brands are struggling to work with the format. Among marketers surveyed by Forrester and AppsFlyer, a mobile measurement company, 34% admitted that over half of their mobile budgets are at risk of being spent on fraudulent conversions. Many don’t understand the increasingly sophisticated hacks used by fraudsters, such as install hijacking or viruses that cause devices to convincingly mimic real users, or how to deal with such techniques.
Such polarization can’t last forever — mobile can’t both be an effective ad platform with high conversion rates and a growing source of fraud. Sure enough, changes are coming to resolve this standoff.
Making Mobile More Accountable
The tech industry tends to create more technology as the solution to any problem. Multiple initiatives are in the works to help make mobile more accountable, whether they’re aimed at the action-based mobile app install ads that launched the industry or the newer trend of brand advertising.
Where the web has cookies, mobile has the device ID, a more secure identifier that fraudsters have nevertheless found ways around. Alternatives like persistent IDs, which start with an account login or universal IDs carried through ad networks aim to link user behavior across devices and browsers, giving advertisers a better net against suspicious activity. IAB’s ads.txt, which attempts to know the real traffic sources and block out unauthorized reselling, works for mobile, too.
Other precautions fall under an individual advertiser’s control. These include buying from SDK-direct networks and using channels that allow advertisers to have full visibility over the apps that show their ads. Even artificial intelligence is making an impact, with machine learning algorithms written to automatically catch suspicious behavior like unusually high click-through rates, multiple installs coming from the same device or high levels of installs without purchases. According to the measurement company Singular, detecting time-to-install anomalies and blacklisting suspicious IPs captures over 50% of cases of fraud.
However, it’s best not to get too caught up in tech. While it’s true that advertisers with a significant budget should deploy tools to safeguard themselves and keep an eye on industry trends, fraud isn’t standing still either. Circumventing new protections is a way of life for those who have made a profession out of cheating.
Ad Networks And Exchanges Driving Transparency
The early years of mobile were marked by hundreds of networks and exchanges launching, connecting millions of apps and mobile websites in an ever-expanding web of advertisers and publishers. This exuberance led to poor outcomes, from low-quality results to outright fraud.
It’s still easy to find advertising platforms that promise outsized results (so long as you don’t measure too well!), but marketers are wising up. In a more mature industry, you may sometimes get a deal, but the best-sounding deals are often just what they sound like: too good to be true. Worse, unsavory providers purposefully obscure viewability or poorly understand where their own traffic is coming from. Small wonder that marketers often feel they’re working in the dark.
Today, leading ad platforms are working to increase transparency, set clear parameters for fraud, and develop tools for detection and reporting. This change is a much more significant turning point than any technology against fraud: In a more transparent world, bad results are identified at their source rather than one by one after the traffic is already purchased.
Marketers, too, can help improve the ecosystem by more carefully vetting sources, not rushing to buy traffic that looks too good to be true and using tools that monitor for anomalies. They’ll have to: With mobile claiming an ever larger share of consumers’ time, the small screen has become too big to ignore.