The IAB introduced ads.txt in 2017 to help publishers understand how inventory is being sold. Since its release, ads.txt has become widely accepted and is considered a mandatory step for publishers wishing to sell their inventory programmatically. Ads.txt was specifically designed to combat fraud and shed light on the sellers and resellers that are associated with any single ad unit.
The challenge for publishers today is deciphering how to accurately determine who has direct relationships and who is an authorized reseller. Understanding this issue can be very complicated when an ads.txt file becomes unwieldy. For example, a file containing over 2,300 data rows and 78 unique partners may prove to be a headache to manage, especially when inaccuracies are this common.
After analyzing over 130 thousand ads.txt files, Sellers.guide has identified an alarming trend. Intermediaries are clearly working with publishers and being listed in the ads.txt file as direct sellers.
This is a clear loophole that shows the lack of standards regulating ads.txt files. An intermediary only has to simply ask to be identified as a direct seller, and then they will benefit from additional revenue as a result of this change in category.
Today, intermediaries can just play a semantics game and decide to list themselves as direct, even though they are by definition intermediaries. We’ve seen that on average there are 38 intermediaries per domain, but the problem is that 29% are listed as DIRECT. The number of intermediaries listed as DIRECT almost doubled in the last 17 months, from 6 to 11.
Ads.txt 1.1 is the latest version of the ads.txt initiative by the IAB Tech Lab and aims to improve clarity within the supply chain and prevent intermediaries from falsely declaring themselves as DIRECT.
Two new values will accomplish this: OWNERDOMAIN and MANAGERDOMAIN. If the intermediary/seller domain isn’t equal to one of those values on the publisher’s ads.txt file, they are a reseller and should be listed as RESELLER on ads.txt. It’s as simple as that.
Upon wide adoption of the new specs, buyers will have the opportunity to verify the relationships between the publishers and their vendors. Having access to these data sets will ensure that buyers can better understand how certain publishers sell their inventory through one ad tech vendor versus another. Being able to discern sellers will allow DSPs, and other members of the supply chain, to better protect buyers from being misled and will help close this gap. The most common sellers implementing this strategy at scale can be found in the State of Transparency Report.
We encourage publishers to implement the new values as soon as possible to protect themselves from fraudsters. If they don’t, DSPs will take them there against their will.