Digital advertisers are always worried about ad fraud in their campaigns. The good news is that the programmatic mobile in-app advertising space has recently made great strides in the fight against ad fraud. However, the not so good news is that some of these advances in combatting ad fraud may be stopped in their tracks once the changes to the way identity is managed in iOS 14 gets implemented by Apple sometime in 2021.
This is not to say that ad fraud will run rampant on iOS devices as soon as these changes go into effect in 2021, as many fraud-fighting techniques and strategies will continue to be just as relevant and effective. For instance, pre-bid anti-fraud efforts will not be impacted. But the changes Apple is introducing could impact some key fraud prevention options and activities.
The Role of Device Identifiers in Fighting Fraud
As we’ve highlighted previously on our blog, perhaps the biggest change coming related to iOS 14 is regarding the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). These changes to Apple’s new mobile operating system coming in 2021 will require each app installed on a device to display a pop-up message that specifically asks iPhone and iPad owners to opt in to having their personal data collected and shared in this manner. As a result of this mandatory, one-time prompt, it’s expected that most people won’t opt in for all the apps they have on their device.
The IDFA is used right now in a variety of ways, including being leveraged to fight advertising fraud. That’s because behaviors (and related metrics) observed across the device can determine if an actual person interacted with an ad and is exhibiting plausibly human behavior.
In particular, advertisers will be keeping a very close eye on post-bid fraud like click injection in a post-IDFA world. For instance, if a device (or, rather, a single device ID) has a battery that is never below a 100% charge over its entire observed lifetime — even as it generates ad clicks, app installs, etc. — then it’s reasonable to assume it’s fraudulent.
Another example: for companies running user acquisition advertising for their app, one way to determine if a legitimate person downloaded an app is to look at post-click behavior like click-to-install time and mean time to install (MTTI). Is the person opening and using the app after installing it to their device, or at least 24 hours after downloading it? With IDFA, it’s possible to gain a holistic look at total on-device behavior.
But what happens when IDFA is taken out of the picture? In the above use case, if that UA advertiser is tracking installs using SKAdNetwork, then they have a limited view into post-install behavior from client-to-server transactions — just one reason why it could be trickier to determine if an install was legitimate or not.
Predicting the Future of Fraud Fighting In App
Of course, it’s critical to note that we’ve so far only talked about one type of mobile ad fraud. There are more types of in-app ad fraud besides post-install fraud, and many of these can be combated even without IDFA information. For instance, it’s still very much possible to ensure that real people are viewing an ad in full, that the ad was displayed to a real person, that the stated advertiser and publisher are legitimate, that the traffic is real, etc.
Plus, all of the pre-bid anti-fraud measures that have been implemented over the past few years are still valid. App-ads.txt and sellers.json still work in a post-iOS 14 world. In addition, mobile measurement platforms and other third-party vendors, alongside industry bodies like the Trustworthy Accountability Group and Adjust’s Coalition Against Ad Fraud, are still functioning and fighting fraud on the proverbial front lines.
And even in regard to install fraud, there are other ways to fight it without device-level data. For one, it’s still feasible to see if an ad click was legitimate or not, which can help suss out a potential click sniping or click injection scheme. Advertisers (and the wider ad tech industry) can also remove the incentives for these kinds of ad fraud to occur. This will hopefully lead to multi-touch attribution being more widely used too.
While mobile ad fraud may never disappear fully, it has been declining for some time now. The expected depreciation of IDFA will impact the anti-fraud status quo, especially around post-bid fraud, but the industry will continue to find new methods to boost trust and transparency in the ecosystem no matter what.