IAB AU Insists Ads.txt Gaining Traction

It has been touted as a simple and effective way to combat ad fraud; but ads.txt has reportedly hit some speed bumps in terms of adoption and deployment. Its lead campaigner IAB, however, says it will limit unhealthy industry practices and marketers recognise its necessity.

An August 2017 report from GetIntent had indicated a slow start for the IAB-developed text file a month after its launch, with just 13 websites adopting ads.txt to their root directory.

There also were reports that confusion over its adoption led some publishers to add resellers that might not have been legitimate.

ExchangeWire reached out to IAB Australia's executive consultant, Jonas Jaanimagi, who stressed that ads.txt was simple to deploy and essential in curbing unhealthy practices amongst some publishers. He added that marketers in Australia had been receptive and expressed confidence of hitting IAB's target of reaching 1,000 websites by year-end.

ExchangeWire: Off the bat, highlight the top five things Australian marketers and publishers need to know about ads.txt.

Jonas Jaanimagi: First, ads.txt is simple to adopt and we urge any programmatic sellers, buyers, and platforms to use and support it. Second, mass adoption of ads.txt will reduce ad fraud and improve transparency within programmatic advertising.

Third, through the mass adoption ads.txt, we can avoid harmful high-profile scams, such as HyphBot and Methbot, which do so much to damage trust within our industry. Also, ads.txt will protect publisher premiums by blocking criminals from hijacking their very valuable domains and monetising counterfeit inventory.

Finally, ads.txt will protect marketers from being tricked into buying counterfeit inventory from fake sites and inadvertently funding criminal activities.

Can you clarify who exactly should get listed on ads.txt? It should only include direct sellers and resellers of publisher inventory, shouldn't it?

Jonas Jaanimagi, Executive Consultant, IAB AU

Ads.txt stands for 'Authorised Digital Sellers' and is a pre-formatted list of authorised sellers and resellers, as well as the related publisher IDs that publishers can post to their domains. This readable text file enables programmatic buyers to quickly and easily identify who is authorised to directly sell or resell that publishers media inventory.

This is a working version from News.com.au that clarifies exactly who is authorised to sell what and what the relationship is. IAB AU also has a dedicated support page to help with implementation.

If only direct sellers and resellers are listed, isn't there a risk that legitimate resellers that may not have a direct relationship with the publisher, but sells its inventory, will be excluded?

It's not an issue via adoption of ads.txt as there is a commitment to transparency as a part of the process. Again, referring to the News.com.au version example, one can see that Kiosked act as the authorised direct seller of this publisher's native display. Alongside Kiosked are the various verified resellers including, as verification, the publisher ID utilised in the auction process. It's fully transparent and very simple.

This will restrict the practices, specifically in programmatic buying, of publishers trying to improve their sell-through rates by having endless blind parties aggressively reselling their media inventory without controls or transparency. This approach is no longer acceptable within open market exchanges; and ads.txt is an example of how the evolution of automation in media buying can improve the levels of safety and shake off historical perceptions.

In addition, further improvements related to trust and transparency will come with the IAB's updated OpenRTB protocols, version 3.0, which we'll be ratifying locally and supporting throughout 2018.

Are you seeing pushback from local marketers who may have concerns about ad fraud, but are also not keen to limit the volume of inventory on which to push their ads?

None at all. The constant refocus on brand safety has already resulted in major brands utilising much smaller whitelists in their ongoing activities rather than simply relying upon blocklists when buying in open market exchanges. Ads.txt ensures higher standards in terms of the quality of the verified programmatic supply available, which can only be a good thing.

Naturally, however, it depends upon the marketer's appetite for risk.

It will be interesting to see whether more risk-averse major brand marketers will start mandating any buying through open-market bidding to be only against domains with an ads.txt file in place. Currently, all of the major DSPs are reading the ads.txt files that are in place, but will still allow you to buy against domains without an ads.txt file. This, however, may change.

Also, the nature of private marketplaces, and some preferred deals, may evolve as a result of wide-scale adoption. Ads.txt now can provide buyers within open market bidding all the control, targeting, and tools as well as much of the trust and security that buyers prefer via the 'programmatic handshake' observed in a private auction. Anything that results in less process 'clunk' related to the administrative efforts required to manage endless deal IDs on both sides of the majority of private programmatic trading must be a good thing.

There've been reports of publishers getting hoodwinked or pushed to add 'resellers or sellers' onto their file. What do you think led to this problem?

This issue goes back to the practice of there historically being far too many blind resellers prevalent within the ecosystem, in both direct deals and programmatic. Businesses that may not be breaking the law, but are still highly commercially reliant upon arbitraging media inventory in a nontransparent manner, will now start to suffer. They can see the potential impact of the industry committing to transparency and will do whatever they can to gain access to any supply they can.

And how should publishers in Australia deal with this when faced with similar incidents?

Whilst the ads.txt tool is very simple to implement, they must ensure they understand and verify exactly who they are allowing onto the list as an authorised seller and reseller. It's their domain and their inventory, so they need to take control of who they allow to sell and resell it.

If publishers are approached and are unsure, then they should consult with their ad-tech vendors in the first instance or reach out to IAB AU.

What misconceptions about ads.txt are now brewing amongst the Australian ad-tech community, and that you want to address here?

Ads.txt has been extremely well-received and understood by the industry. However, it's important to note two things. First, this solution can only protect against ad fraud related to domain spoofing. Other forms of ad fraud exist and vary dramatically in their levels of sophistication; so companies should ensure they have the right tools and vendors in place depending upon requirements.

Second, ads.txt in its current form only works for web-based programmatic buying. The solution for in-app environments is currently being developed via the IAB Tech Lab and we will provide any practical updates as soon as we can.

What are some tips you can offer Australian publishers on how to get started on ads.txt and what do marketer and agencies need to look out for?

Adopt this simple but effective solution, but take control of your own ads.txt file and ensure the information listed is accurate and constantly updated by an experienced member of staff.

How is IAB AU doing in terms of reaching its target of 1,000 publishers?

Our current estimate is that we are around the 500-domain mark here in Australia. We will shortly be launching a public page with simple monitoring tools to visualise the levels of local adoption, which we will keep regularly updated.

We feel that the target of 1,000 is significant and we're confident we can achieve this before the end of 2017.