2018 Inventory Quality Reflections: Turning the Tables on Fraudulent Traffic

Post on January 10, 2019 by Ash Vemulapalli

Ash Vemulapalli Senior Product Manager

2017 was a challenging year for all of ad tech, including walled gardens companies. Brands were vocal about quality issues in the digital media supply chain including fraud, viewability, brand safety and measurability. As a result, 2018 was a year of great progress for PubMatic with major product investments, process updates and key personnel hires. We institutionalized a three-stage approach to increase the effectiveness of marketing spend for our buyers that put us on the path to becoming a quality leader.

PubMatic’s Three-Stage Approach:

PubMatic's IQ Approach

Publisher Onboarding:

Inventory quality at PubMatic starts before a publisher goes live on the platform. Our sales team collects publisher credentials like their geography, audience reach, traffic source, years in business, quality of content plus domains and apps to be monetized for the ops team. The ops team then performs additional checks on these static attributes before greenlighting the publisher on our platform.

All approved publishers must allowlist their domains or apps to send bid requests. We use multiple fraud detection vendors to assess the historic fraud rate, viewability scores, brand safety categories and popularity of allowlisted domains/apps. Only domains/apps that score above the baseline threshold are approved to monetize on the PubMatic platform.

Pre-Bid Invalid Traffic Prevention:

Traffic received from allowlisted domains/apps is then put through general invalid traffic (GIVT) filtering. At this stage, we remove requests coming from bots, spiders, invalid browsers, data center IPs and blocklisted domains/apps. Requests are further validated for authorized sellers using an ads.txt file before sending them to sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) filtering. On an average day, our quality funnel eliminates 5-6 B invalid impressions.

IQ Funnel of coverage

Bid requests that clear the GIVT quality funnel are fed through pre-bid fraud detection systems to block SIVT. In this step, we block bid requests that originate from devices that imitate human behavior using advanced methods like cookie or device id stuffing, hijacked sessions, auto reloaders, click farms and more. As quality has been an ongoing priority, we have already cleaned a significant amount of inventory and we still filter about 300 million requests through this process every day for continued protection.

Post-Bid Invalid Traffic Detection & Removal:

Buyers are then given an opportunity to bid on requests that were cleared from GIVT and SIVT filtering. At this point, our focus shifts to detecting fraudulent behavior on winning impressions after a creative is served on a consumer’s browser. PubMatic’s ops teams proactively review the post-bid measurement data for domains/high non-human traffic and low viewability scores. All domains/apps with more than 3 percent invalid traffic (IVT) are flagged for removal from PubMatic’s platform. In 2018, we flagged and removed 18,516 domains and 3,337 apps from our platform.

PubMatic also introduced a fraud-free program bolstered by confidence in a strong onboarding process, exhaustive inventory quality funnel, customer feedback, and thorough post-bid review process. It is our goal to eliminate all fraud on our platform, however, we acknowledge that it could still happen. Under our fraud-free program, any buyer on our platform can claim credit for fraudulent impressions as measured by their preferred MRC fraud vendor. This allows buyers to focus on strategy and execution without getting distracted by quality concerns. Thus far, we have refunded more than $1.5M through our fraud-free program in 2018.

We saw the fraud rate dwindle significantly last year along with other things like crypto, stocks, and crude.  Our teams endeavor to make the fraud rate continually decrease, month-over-month. Additionally, we are actively working on major initiatives like addressing low-value human traffic, app-ads.txt, auto flagging and blocking of suspicious domains/apps that should further drive the quality of our traffic.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about our fraud-fighting initiatives, download our  white paper “Understanding Inventory Quality: Thinking Beyond Bots,” check out some of our content or contact us with questions. We look forward to cleaning up the programmatic ecosystem with our partners and other industry leaders in 2019!