CMO: Keep calm and destroy the bots: The importance of keeping online traffic human

Recent research from US Internet Security Company, Solve Media, noted nearly one quarter of the traffic online display ads attract may be fraudulent, generated by automated programs called bots. The latest figures are just another example of why it's increasingly important value to police our industry and keep the malefactors out.

It's such a significant issue that Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US, described the dangers of online traffic fraud to the industry as being analogous to having unprotected sex, or allowing cars to roll off assembly lines with defective car tyres.

Dramatics aside, online traffic fraud is best described as a kind of hijacking, whereby a sizeable amount of the billion dollar digital advertising industry is siphoned off using 'bots'. These non-human codes trick the systems into thinking an ad has been meaningfully engaged with, either by mimicking a click on an ad, or hosting ads on fake sites. In turn, this triggers a whole host of ramifications, from skewing measurement to funding organised crime. It threatens the integrity of our industry at a time when we are already working hard to address consumer concerns around issues such as privacy and online behavioural advertising (OBA).

Ultimately, online traffic fraud has the potential to create an atmosphere of suspicion around digital advertising for both advertisers and consumers. Marketing managers may find themselves wondering whether the valuable dollars they are spending on brand campaigns actually include fraudulent impressions thanks to bots (and often unbeknownst to the publisher), or whether their ads are appearing on off-message sites.

At the same time, legitimate and trustworthy publishers will be finding the Bot generated illusion of inflated impressions is artificially driving up the supply of inventory and reducing its value.

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