Bots with Credit Cards

Yesterday I've attended a talk on the topic of ad fraud by Michael Tiffany, CEO of WhiteOps. I've watched videos of his talks before, so I knew I'm in for a treat. I didn't come away disappointment. Among many interesting aspect of ad fraud that Michael presented yesterday, I found the most interesting one which involves 'ghosts' of real users. This particular fraud technique works with the users whose computers or web browsers are compromised and on which bots run in the background when these users go about their normal web browsing activities. Your parents might be among these users as are thousands of other normal people with lacking computing literacy and inadequate security practices, who once were baited to click a link in an email or a flashy banner ad, which was sufficient for a malware to install itself on their computer and start its dirty practice. Since these bots are able to clone user's cookies they go about to surf the web pretending they are the users themselves as far the advertising technology is concerned.

The story gets even more interesting since in parallel the real users are surfing the web too and contrary to the bots the real users are actually moving down purchase funnels, eventually buying some of the stuff they see through advertising on the web. The bots, that is, the ghosts of real users, can then command premium prices for their fake ad inventory from advertisers doing retargeting and even take credits for final conversions through multi-touch attribution thus diluting marketing dollars that would otherwise end with legit publishers.