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Mobile Ad Fraud

The business of mobile advertising is a complex entity: various devices, operating systems, browsers and app stores. There are countless different advertising marketers and software providers who automatically run ads.

On the one hand there are app publishers, marketers and marketplace providers for mobile advertising who want to sell their advertising spaces as efficient as possible. On the other hand, there are companies and providers of apps who want to promote their products and services as accurately and cheaply as possible.

Usually each click or app download is billed – but distinguishing between real users or robots is a big problem in the industry.
Clicks and app downloads that come from bots and malware cause billion-dollar damages for advertising companies worldwide.

First massive ad fraud with Android apps

Recent example: Oracle security researchers have discovered that defrauders have infiltrated malicious software into hundreds of Android apps that silently play video ads in the background. The goal is to fake the amount of video views and to increase the advertising revenue. According to Oracle, apps like „Perfect365“, „VertexClub“, „Draw Clash of Clans

To prevent fraud, companies like AppsFlyer from Israel and adjust from Germany, started some initiatives. Their goal is to create more transparency in the mobile advertising market.

adjust and Appsflyer are the leading players in the fight against mobile ad fraud

In 2017, adjust launched the so-called Coalition Against Ad Fraud (CAAF).

All partners of the CAAF agreed to stick to defined guidelines and standards in dealing with mobile advertising and advertising fraud.

A special benchmarking tool, which was launched in 2018, allows advertisers to test the performance of their own apps or their mobile advertising campaigns in comparison to the branch’s average. It measures fraudulent and rejected installs. With the acquisition of the Israeli startup Unbotify, which uses its Artificial Intelligence technology to identify bots or malware, adjust strengthen its position in the fight against ad fraud.

Recently, adjust launched a method called „Click Validation Through Proof of Impression“, which analyzes click data and impressions in combination. This method evaluates if impression and click are attributable to one user. Otherwise adjust do not classify the click as valid.

In early 2016, the Israeli Adtech company AppsFlyer, led by Ben Jeger, opened its German office. AppsFlyer is also highly involved in the fight against mobile ad fraud. Their own initiatives, studies, a glossary about ad fraud on their website, market analysis and aggressive PR show that the topic is very relevant.

The most common fraud

According to a study conducted by adjust, the most common fraud is:

SDK Spoofing / Hijacking: Defrauders gain access to user’s mobile devices and fake app installations. Affected users won’t even recognize it.

Click Spam: App downloads or clicks of organic users are reported as if they had caused through mobile ads.

Click Injections: An ingenious form of click fraud that informs defrauders as soon as an app has been downloaded from the Appstore. It allows defrauders to interpose an ad click before the user opens the app for the first time.

Fake Installs: Fake installations that have never been caused by real users but by bots.

AppsFlyer started their own research to reveal the most common fraud tactics. Accordingly, they figured out, that the damage caused by Device ID Reset Fraud is the worst. Defrauders take advantage of the fact, that every mobile device can be identified by its Device ID. So-called “device farms” automatically reset the device ID of hundreds of devices to fake interactions such as app downloads and clicks. Nevertheless Ben Jeger, Managing Director DACH of AppsFlyer, warns user to mark every anomaly as advertising fraud because
sometimes technical defects in app programming or server delays may also be the reason.
Only the complex interaction of machine learning and human expertise can detect and evaluate emerging anomalies and fraud patterns.

To protect your own company from ad fraud you should work together very closely with all advertising partners and with those who are responsible for your SDKs. Additionally, own data should be analyzed and scanned for uncommon events. These tips are just a few simple things you can do by yourself – for everything else there are companies like AppsFlyer and adjust.