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What 3Q Learned about Mobile Fraud in 2018, Part 3: Source-Level Data

Published: April 4, 2019

Author: Sophia Fen

Thanks for joining us on our road to MAU Vegas 2019, where we’ll be presenting our proprietary mobile ad fraud-fighting process! In the weeks to come, we’ll detail war stories and tactics for sniffing out and snuffing out fraud.
As you probably know, two of the main pros to using third-party partners (mobile ad networks and DSPs) are scale and variety. You can reach people no matter where they are — across hundreds of thousands of apps and sites, from games to news to blogs (and everything in between). It’s pretty powerful. However, as Voltaire (or Uncle Ben) once said: with great power comes great responsibility…
The immense scale provided by these ad networks and DSPs inherently and unfortunately results in some concerns, namely mobile fraud and brand safety. Because your ad can show up on so many different apps and/or sites, one of 3Q’s requirements for running with these third-party partners is 100% transparency. Our partners must pass back the app/site name and bundle ID via MMP tracker macros. We then constantly check these inventory sources for validity, brand-safe environments, quality, etc., and hold our partners responsible for where our advertisers’ ads are being placed.
What happened when we starting looking closely at bundle IDs/source-level data?
During one of our regular source-level inventory checks across our third-party partners, we noticed a popular music app (let’s call it Music4U) accounting for driving a large percentage of installs that month for one of our clients. Brand safety wasn’t a concern since it’s a high-quality app, but we also have a direct partnership with Music4U and know that most of their inventory is sold directly to advertisers. They do sell a small % of their inventory to the ad exchanges, but the volume that was coming in seemed too substantial, so we dug in a bit more with the partner it was stemming from.
They (let’s just call them Partner X) went straight to the source and confirmed our suspicions – the inventory source that was passing back the name Music4U was not, in fact, Music4U. They were able to verify this because it also wasn’t being purchased from the one ad exchange Music4U sells inventory to. This is called Bundle ID spoofing – “where the advertiser believes they are buying inventory on one mobile app, but instead, the ad is going to another ‘laundered’ app, or potentially even just to a dark screen or background process” (according to Pixalate, a traffic quality and ad fraud protection company).
It didn’t stop there. It wasn’t happening on just the one client, but across multiple clients that we work with Partner X on. Partner X immediately blocked that inventory source not just for 3Q campaigns, but across their entire network. We negotiated refunds or added value from Partner X across all clients and campaigns that “Music4U” drove installs for, since they weren’t truly coming from the app that they masked themselves as. Hopefully this inspires you to take responsibility and take a deeper look at where your ads are actually showing up (or let us do it for you)!
Don’t miss our talk at MAU Vegas 2019 (War Stories and Tactics for Fighting Mobile Ad Fraud – Wednesday, May 1 @ 3:40PM), where we’ll cover this and much more.

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