Truth – or Just the Latest Buzz-cabulary?

‘Blockchain’ is shouted from all rooftops. But is the encrypted, infinitely expandable chain of data sets the solution to the issues programmatic advertising is currently facing? Marco Ricci (pictured below), CEO, Adloox, wants to get the discussion started.

Very exciting, this new ‘Truth’ Media Agency. “A new type of media agency utilising blockchain smart contract technology to provide 100% transparency.” 100 percent! That’s amazing. Does anyone remember getting 100% on their school exam? Even in your favourite subject? Didn’t think so. And what does that mean the current crop of agencies and trading desks were offering… 80% transparency? Or even 50%?? That was a pass mark at school, so maybe that’s acceptable in ad tech as well?

Sarcasm aside, of course every agency, supplier, and tech provider claims they offer ‘100% transparency’. Why wouldn’t they? Why lie when you can tell the truth. If you were Apple, you wouldn’t admit: “The new iPhone looks great, but the battery life is even worse than the last version.” No! You’d say everything is better, faster, smoother. More reliable. Like a new car. ‘Trust me’ is the oldest sales technique in the book, so nothing’s changed there.

Marco Ricci, CEO, Adloox

Honestly, I think it’s great to see an agency break rank, being disruptive, getting people talking. But just how every search for a hero starts with a villain, where would truth be, without lies? No Batman without the Joker. Yin and yang. Or, to use blockchain’s metaphysical rise into pole position of ad tech buzz-cabulary, is it really going to mean the death of ad fraud, as many are suggesting? Or will it spawn the rise of new super-sophisticated fraud networks. S-SIVT. Take these cases for example, seven different blockchain hacks stealing over USD$490m (£344m) just a few months ago. Quite concerning that it’s not even mainstream yet and it’s already being sabotaged.

Here’s a thought. Imitation is supposedly, as the saying goes, the sincerest form of flattery. But as long as there are humans transacting online, there will be fraudsters imitating them to make money. As long as advertisers are paying for their ad placements to reach a wider/niche audience there will be invalid traffic, fake websites, and malpractice across the ecosystem. Criminals follow the money. Drug trade = ~USD$50bn. Ad tech isn’t that far behind, and neither are the fraudsters who are capitalising on this. Ad verification companies are detecting new categories of IVT traffic all the time. At Adloox, we currently catch over 35 categories of invalid traffic. They become official, filtered, and eventually removed. Some vendors will even push for MRC accreditation of their capabilities in this area, something we advise all buyers of ad verification to consider when choosing their anti-fraud provider. However, as brands invest and delve into undiscovered, less-transparent and measured waters, such as in-app mobile, new and smarter types of ad fraud suddenly appear. #Armsrace.

As with any new technology, discovery, or evolution, there is excitable optimism. But for every 100 new blockchain technologies, how many chain-breakers do we think there are? What are the implications if the technology is hijacked or compromised? Nikolai Hampton pointed out in Computerworld that if there was a cyber-attack on a private blockchain, they “would control 100% of the network and alter transactions however they wished”. This has particular widespread consequence at times of a financial crisis/in the hands of terrorism. Politically powerful actors may make decisions that favour some groups at the expense of others. In programmatic advertising, ad fraud affects between 15-40% of the industry. Imagine if 100% of an advertiser’s spend was hijacked…

In summation, creating a more transparent, trustworthy world can only be a good thing. I applaud what the Truth Agency is aiming to do. Online ad tech could certainly do with an injection of truth serum and confidence. It’s long overdue. But to say that blockchain will end ad fraud (and the need for third-party verification tools), seems a little misguided and wholly premature. It’s barely been tested yet, certainly not audited, and already showing holes. I’m sure the smart techies behind ad fraud are lining up ready for the big reveal.

Worth remembering that when crime is on the rise (much like ad fraud is), you put more police on the streets. You don’t pull them off.