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Combatting Malvertising with Buyers.json and DemandChain

The IAB Tech Lab and a group of media owners, media buyers, and anti-fraud partners recently released two new technical specifications for comment: buyers.json and DemandChain Object. Index Exchange has been vocally supportive of buyer transparency for a long time, and we’re proud to contribute to these two proposals.

Buyers.json and DemandChain Object mirror the existing sellers.json and SupplyChain Object specifications, with the intent to enable media buyers to share important information with ad tech partners and media owners in order to combat malvertising.

The many-headed malware hydra

At some point, all players involved in the delivery of an ad to a page have engaged in the following goose chase: first, a media owner urgently flags a bad creative—malware, false advertising, or an ad that doesn’t meet exchange quality guidelines—to their SSP partners, along with the question “where did this ad come from?”

Next begins the forensic effort to trace the origin of the bad ad back through one of the dozens of DSPs and thousands of buyers. It might take hours to find the right source, and in severe cases, the media owner blocks the entire DSP through that SSP in the meantime. Once the source is identified, the seat is blocked and business resumes.

If the fraudster is particularly advanced, the same ad might appear once again the next day, this time through a different seat on a different DSP. The bad actor moves along, taking advantage of the agility offered by DSPs and the lack of transparency currently available to media owners about the identity of the buyer behind the seat and the relationship between them.

If the fraudulent buyer’s identity was clear from the start and consistently labeled across DSPs, this problem could be fixed in minutes.

How can we as an industry further improve our protections against malvertising, ending this goose chase along with the drain of resources and reputational damage they cause media owners, SSPs, and DSPs? 

Put simply: by advocating for equal transparency provided by media buyers.

An opportunity for transparency on the buy side

There have been several blockers to this kind of transparency coming to fruition:

  1. It’s incredibly difficult to organize media owners and the millions of consumers whose interests they represent into a collaborative unit in order to apply pressure;
  2. Historically, there has been lukewarm interest from media buyers in providing such transparency; and
  3. Pragmatically, our industry has lacked specifications for a solution.

These newly announced designs allow for advertising systems to efficiently and elegantly disclose information about buyers, such as name and seat ID, through the hosted buyer.json declaration file. They can then create a chain of information on every impression to trace where it came from and whose hands it has passed through via the bidstream DemandChain Object. Buyers.json and DemandChain Object can be cross-referenced just the same way that sellers.json and SupplyChain Object are today.

Buyers.json and DemandChain Object will help media owners combat malvertising in two ways. First, when implemented by media buyers, malware incidents will be rapidly and easily resolved. Second, when buyers choose not to implement it, media owners can correlate information about non-support and malware incidents through those buyers, and make decisions to deprioritize their demand or even disable it entirely. 

Media owners aren’t the only ones who benefit: everyone in the supply chain wins when there is traceable information about buyers. Partners can enhance reporting data, analyze demand trends, and aid demand path optimization to make sure that more of every working media dollar makes it to the media owner.

Buyers benefit from increased protections for their brand. Now, they can declare exactly which seats are allowed to advertise on their behalf so that any other actors are instantly recognized as fake. They’re also protected from reputational damage caused by malware operators, who often impersonate legitimate brands to trick consumers into engaging.

Supporting buyers.json and DemandChain Object

Index Exchange is proud to announce that we’ll support both buyers.json and DemandChain Object. We collaborated with industry partners in the IAB Tech Lab’s working group to design these new specifications, and we believe that adopting them can make a real difference in the fight against fraud, thus supporting media owners, protecting brands, and increasing transparency in programmatic advertising. 

Maddy Want

Maddy Want

As senior director of product management at Index Exchange, Madeleine Want is a key contributor to the company’s overarching mission to accelerate the ad technology evolution, particularly as the company forays into new channels and offerings. She leads Index's product investments in addressability and exchange experience. Before joining Index in November 2019, Madeleine served as a group product manager at Audible, Inc. (an Amazon company) and previously held product roles at Samsung and fashion group The Iconic in Germany and Australia. She recently completed a Master of Public Policy from Columbia University.

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