We need to talk about the transparency of the ad tech supply chain – or lack thereof…
After analyzing tens of thousands of ads.txt files, the Sellers.guide team began to notice a pattern. The pattern was not innocuous, but instead appeared to be an alarming trend, one that glared in front of us.
That trend was rooted in mismarked ads.txt files. We noticed that buyers were being misled by falsely stated relationships within ads.txt lines. These lines did not match the correlating sellers.jsons and were therefore incorrect. In other words, intermediaries or resellers are sending ‘DIRECT’ lines in order to gain higher revenue at the expense of publishers’ direct budgets. Whether purposefully or mistakenly written incorrectly, these lines introduced us to a problem that was not minute, but rather one that was large-scale and highly threatening to the state of transparency of the ad tech supply chain.
We kept digging deeper into this issue and found that there were repeat offenders who were making mismarked lines commonplace. This realization was hard to ignore and even harder to treat as accidental.
An issue of this scale can no longer be ignored or cast away as mere naivety. There are consequences of these incorrectly labeled relationships, ones that surpass transparency.
Resellers that are misrepresenting themselves are benefitting at the expense of buyers, sellers, and other intermediaries.
Buyers that are buying traffic they believe to be “direct” are bruising the efficiency of their budgets. Fraud in the industry is enabled by these innocent transactions taking place and the true perpetrators are getting away with their transgressions with profit instead of even a slap on the wrist.
Revenue is taking a hit. For publishers, they are losing revenue they do not even know is missing. Their direct seats are being cannibalized by these supply chain inaccuracies and absorbing portions of the direct revenue that they’re owed.
For the clean and honest intermediaries and resellers that are competing against intermediaries that are claiming to have direct relationships, it is getting harder and harder to gain back the publishers’ trust that has been defiled by their dishonest counterparts.
New initiatives have begun to tackle these problems. The most notable and recent example of this is IAB’s latest update, ads.txt version 1.1. Although this initiative was created to improve the state of transparency, it is not a bulletproof solution; it will take time for publishers to adhere to it these changes, and for buyers to enforce them, but even then, bad actors will continue to try to find loopholes to exploit the supply chain as they have done before.
So, what comes next? What can we do to mend this damage being done at such a grand scale? Who’s responsible for the supply chain clean-up? This is an industry-wide issue that requires participation from all members of the industry to restore the transparency that’s been clouded.
Based on the data we’ve collected, the problem is too far developed for us all to stand idly by and allow fraud to perpetuate our industry.
We each have a role to play. It’s time to address the state of transparency – head-on and with scrutiny.