Earlier this month the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a nonprofit made up of industry players dedicated to fighting criminal activity in digital advertising, announced that it’s launching an anti-fraud certification program. Those buyers, sellers and intermediaries in the digital ad supply chain will get a “Certified Against Fraud” seal if they meet the program’s requirements. More than 30 organizations have signed up, including major players like Google, comScore, GroupM and Omnicom. We spoke with TAG CEO Mike Zaneis about the certification and the industry’s mission to fight fraud in digital advertising.
When will this TAG certification be ready?
We have a number of certification programs. The one we announced was for an anti-fraud seal. It is essentially ready now for companies to come and make compliance. There’s one component that we’re still writing a technical protocol for, which is our payment ID system. It takes a little bit of time—you have to onboard companies, they have to get registered first, you have to do a background check, they have to designate a compliance officer, who then has to go through training… it takes a few weeks or a month or two to onboard companies, and by the time companies have gone through those administration steps they’ll be ready to be in full compliance with our anti-fraud program.
What are some of the “rigorous anti-fraud requirements” required to be TAG certified?
We start with the baseline. All the companies have to comply with the Media Ratings Council, the MRC, and they have to have valid traffic guidelines. They are a set of guidelines networks established six months ago to help filter out non-human traffic from inventory sold. That’s something we think everybody in the industry should be doing. And then we built on top of that an integration of a couple of anti-fraud tools. We have two list surveying tools that we utilize, where we gather intelligence from industry actors. For example, we have a fraud threat list, where companies will tell us when they’re noticing domains that have an unacceptable level of fraud emanating from them. And then we can share that list with other program participants.
And then we have a second fraud tool, which is our data center IP list. This is again an information-sharing tool, where we gather intelligence from the industry about IP addresses that are actually data centers. What that means is that it’s not human activity—it’s just bot activity. And so no marketer would want to purchase inventory being displayed to a bot. And some of these can be very legitimate bots, like a search engine that utilizes a bot program to scour the Internet and index websites. But those types of bots self identify—they send a signal and say ‘hey, I’m not a human, please don’t sell ads against my visits to your website.’ But there are lots of data centers that do not self identify. So helping the industry to scrub the inventory from that traffic is another tool that TAG provides.
How do you plan to get the industry to fully adopt this standard? When do you predict full adoption?
Well the key is that TAG is a field program, meaning it’s voluntary. And we set the high bar. And for companies that can get over that bar can get a TAG seal. That will represent to the market that they’re a trusted source and that they’re living up to the best practices known. Not everybody has to comply with that, but if you are a marketer, those are the partners you’re going to look for, because you’ll have a higher level of trust that they’re protecting your brand and you’re not losing money to ad fraud, for example.
How do you see the industry managing the problem of fraud?
I think we’re at the precipice of major change. For the last 16-24 months the industry has been talking about fraud as a problem, and trying to understand how it occurs. I think we’ve gotten past that now and especially with the TAG seal, we’re moving toward a resolution of this problem, and really taking it head on. I think it’s too early to say that the industry is succeeding in fighting fraud. But I think we now have the tools in place to be succcessul, and over the next 12-18 months I think you’ll will see a tipping point where the industry is really able to address fraud and legitimate marketers will be able to protect themselves, keep their brands safe, and not waste millions of dollars.
To be certified, you have to spend a certain amount of money, correct?
It depends on what you want to be certified against and whether you’re a large business or a small business. There’s no minimum, necessarily. For example, if small companies can meet our requirements, we have a small business exemption where we will bring them into the program, share the tools with them, and they get the benefits of the program. As long as they have the means to filter out fraudulent traffic. We want it to be inclusive.
What’s up for TAG in the future?
We’re excited about developing our anti-malware program, which we’ll launch a little bit later this year, which will help protect consumers and make it more difficult for criminals to promulgate malware through advertising—which is often called “malvertising.” As part of that program we’ve launched a public/private partnership with federal law enforcement to make sure that the industry’s really providing actual intelligence and trying to bring the criminals to justice. We’ve talked with the Department of Homeland Security, we’re going to have a malware summit in New York, we’ll have representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI and Homeland Security all participating.