Ad Stacking targets in-app video: Buyers poised to pay 9X the impression cost

Pat Ciavolella

Pat Ciavolella

June 13, 2019 - Pat Ciavolella [pictured], Director, Digital Security & Operations at The Media Trust, writes: A large-scale ad stacking incident involving in-app video impressions is affecting dozens of premium digital advertising technology providers and media publishers. Ad stacking or stuffing is an ad fraud technique where multiple ads are piled on top of each other within the same slot. While the user sees only the top ad, the succeeding ad layers that remain invisible to the user are charged to the advertiser as viewed impressions.

Ad fraud by another name

While ad stacking is not new, this current situation is unique for surging to more than 10,000 ad tags in the digital ecosystem in only four days. This incident involves in-app video ads, frequently making up to 10 calls for these high-value ads in the mobile environment.

The incentive is to serve as many ads as possible and earn money. Taking advantage of programmatic advertising, the bad actor injects multiple ads into a campaign and charges the buyer for impressions when only a small fraction of impressions was viewed by humans—generating unearned revenue. Ad stacking also hurts publishers by driving down their viewability metrics, and, as a result, eroding their reputation with advertisers. In addition, continuous calls for these ads that don’t earn revenue cause unnecessary latency to the user.

How it works

The current incident started on June 6, the fraudster slowly tested the use of 6 different domain pairs by placing campaigns with at least 3 DSPs that feed into dozens of exchanges and SSPs, and eventually executing in the mobile apps of 10 newspaper publishers which use popular SDKs for their app environment. More...