More than $1m lost in revenue due to domain spoofing, News UK finds

News UK has found more than AU$1m in revenue per month is potentially being lost by the publisher due to programmatic advertising fraud, Digiday has reported.

The discovery came after a programmatic blackout test conducted by News UK in December, that discovered 2.9m bids per hour were made on fake inventory claiming to be from the News UK’s The Sun and The Times of London.

According to Digiday, the survey was conducted between 3am to 5am on December 4. A total of 650,000 ad requests were made each hour, which led News UK to estimate marketers are wasting more than $1m on domain-spoofed inventory per month on their sites alone.

The Sun’s supply-side platform (SSP) partners including Google AdX, Rubicon Project, AppNexus, Index Exchange, PubMatic and Amazon’s A9. The Times’ ads.txt file includes Google AdX, Rubicon Project, AppNexus, Index Exchange, PubMatic,, OpenX and Sovrn.

While Ben Walmsley, digital commercial director for News UK, did not confirm names, he found 2.9m impressions to be found across two SSPs. Most of the inventory was in display while some of it was in video inventory. But The Times of London does not sell pre-roll ads or sell programatically.

“We wanted to expose where brands are being tricked into thinking they’re buying quality inventory, bidding on what they think is a premium site when it isn’t,” Walmsley said.

News UK said it would continue to run similar tests going forward, to check progress.

“We believe the responsibility for cleaning up the supply chain lies with publishers, brands, agencies, industry bodies and technology intermediaries.

“Working together, improving communication between all of these groups and taking steps such as this to root out criminality will create a better digital marketplace for advertisers, who should be confident that they are getting the advertising inventory that they are paying for.”

But News UK isn’t the first major publishing company to reveal problems with domain spoofing. In September last year, The Financial Times found display ads against inventory led to be believed by on 10 separate ad exchanges and video ads on 15 exchanges, even though the publisher doesn’t sell video ads programmatically.

The revelations were described as “alarming” and “shocking” by Jess Barrett, global head of programmatic for the Financial Times.

“These exchanges were all names that you would know. These are the same companies who are coming up and saying ‘We’re fighting fraud’,” she said.

Andrew Hughes, consultant at digital and marketing technology consultancy Louder, explained how the above survey would work if News UK ran the test using ads.txt – a tool developed by the IAB tech lab to fight against unauthorised inventory by cutting fraudulent sellers out of the supply chain.

“What would happen is that any news inventory that has been made available in the market that wasn’t associated with the seller IDs that are in the ads.txt file, they would be identified by the DSPs as being fraudulent sellers and they would be excluded and the inventory would only be brought through the verified sellers – the ads.txt verified sellers.”

However it isn’t always that simple. Hughes points out third party sellers are asking publishers to list them on ads.txt files, even though publishers don’t have direct relationships with these companies.

“The problem is that SSPs and fraudulent re-sellers are getting in touch with publishers and requesting that they are added to the ads.txt file, even though they are not managed,” he said.

“There’s got to be governance and protocols put in place to say at the publishers end – ads.txt is a major file of commercial important and it can’t be changed without required approval.”

He said local publishers could be exposed to the same problems, suggesting the need for programmatic blackout tests such as these to occur locally.

“They could be exposed to those same problems, whether they have those problems or not is obviously something that would require them to test it. Given the scale of both the FT’s instance and News UK’s instance, I would imagine that would be highlighted reasonably quickly by the teams to go and resolve, if it hasn’t already been conducted,” he said.

But some technology platforms haven’t yet adopted ads.txt protocol, with AppNexus to introduce it from January 24. Mainstream buying platforms have adopted ads.txt, including TradeDesk, Adobe Ad Cloud, Data Xu and Mediamath.

Google Doubleclick launched a fraud refund commitment for media purchased through Bid Manager, but the company was later hit by a lawsuit for alleged fraud in ad-scam refunds.

He added another major challenge – aside from technology platforms not adopting ads.txt – is a lack of ad operations resource teams.

“On both sides of the fence, ad operations is an undervalued resource. With effective ad operations and campaign operations teams on both the supply and demand side, publishers have the opportunity to generate greater yields and revenues.

“On the demand side, you have the opportunity to wire media more effectively, through ad operations and campaign operations.”

When asked whether technology platforms genuinely wanted to adopt ads.txt and combat fraud,  he admitted the degree of scrutiny around programmatic has been “considerable” in the last 12 months but it was important for technology platforms to have confidence in their products.

“This is one of a number of initiatives that have the capability to build confidence back in the market. For me, it’s (combating fraud) something that was happening anyway that has been expedited. It’s not necessarily something that is in isolation.

“It’s not necessarily new, it’s just a validated option has upped its scale. Whitelisting in theory is kind of a great practice but if the domains are being spoofed then a white list isn’t going to work. When you are actually validating the ID of the seller, that eliminates the question about whether a domain is or isn’t legitimate.”


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