Mobile Ad Fraud

The average person looks at their phone 46 times every day, which means that collectively, Americans check their phones 8 billion times a day. Each of those glances has potential value to an advertiser, which is why mobile ad spending is expected to reach $100 billion in 2016 and programmatic media buying is projected to reach $20.5 billion by 2017, according to eMarketer.

While the rise of programmatic and automated media buying is providing advertisers with sophisticated and highly efficient means of reaching their customers through mobile ads, it is also opening up a new dark side to the process that is costing advertisers billions of ad dollars every year: ad fraud.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has identified ad fraud has one of the biggest threats ever to the advertising industry, not to mention the internet economy. Research from Forensiq estimates that 34% of programmatic mobile ad impressions are at risk of being fraudulent, which translates to billions of dollars poured down the drain.

So what is mobile ad fraud, really? Ad fraud occurs when non­humans register impressions or clicks on mobile ad units. According to the Media Ratings Council’s Invalid Traffic Detection and Filtration Guidelines, released in October 2015, ad fraud can be divided into two major categories: General (e.g., bots, spiders, crawlers) and Sophisticated (e.g., hijacked devices, malware, falsified location, cookie stuffing). Let’s take a closer look at two of the most common ad fraud problems.

Bots and false clicks on mobile

In their simplest form, bots are programs that are designed to generate fake ad impressions or clicks. The most common type of fraud is when a bot continuously clicks on an ad and generates a large amount of clicks in a short period of time; the clicks are not directly correlated to an actual impression. For example, the report might show a highly unusual spike in clicks measure for one day:


Another example of a possible fraudulent click is when log files show nothing but clicks for similar IPs with the same session IDs or cookies.

False location data on mobile

Location-­based mobile ad targeting is