Ensuring quality: Ads.txt and beyond


Digital advertising, particularly programmatic, has come a long way since its inception. While it delivers clear value for marketing professionals across a continuously expanding set of consumer touch points, its rapid growth has also led to a complex ecosystem where trust, transparency, and quality can be elusive.

To overcome these challenges, there are a number of industry-wide initiatives aimed at cleaning up the programmatic supply chain to help ensure that marketing professionals have access to quality inventory. Chief among these industry initiatives is ads.txt, which was introduced by the IAB in May of this year. Ads.txt is designed to combat fraud and helps solve the problem of counterfeit inventory (also known as “domain spoofing”) present in the programmatic supply chain.

Implementing ads.txt

Ads.txt is currently being implemented across the industry, which is a great step toward eradicating counterfeit inventory and ensuring brand safety. However, while implementation ramps up, there are some limitations to the effectiveness of ads.txt. During the initial implementations of ads.txt filters, the benefit of ads.txt will only apply to domains that have posted an ads.txt file.

For example, a domain that has an ads.txt file posted, i.e. nytimes.com/ads.txt, the DSP will look at all bid requests that state the domain as nytimes.com and block any sellerIDs that are not listed on the ads.txt file. Any request stating nytimes.com where the sellerID is listed on the ads.txt file as “DIRECT” or “RESELLER” will be considered authorized inventory. But the key point to note is that any domain that does not have an ads.txt file posted will not be filtered in any way.  
This means that, for now, there are three categories of inventory when thinking about ads.txt:

  • Authorized inventory listed in ads.txt
  • Unauthorized sellers not listed in ads.txt
  • Unknown where the domain has no ads.txt file

One of the current limitations of ads.txt is that a huge amount of inventory is currently considered “unknown” because a number of domains have not yet posted an ads.txt file. As a result, advertisers will still be exposed to malicious behavior due to the limitations of ads.txt filtering that other DSPs have put in place.

dataxu + ads.txt: Another layer of defense-in-depth

Here at dataxu, we are currently building out the automated ads.txt filter for TouchPointTM, our DSP, and expect to have it available and running across inventory in early Q1. That said, we have been on top of the problems that ads.txt is solving for a long time thanks to our defense-in-depth approach to inventory quality and true customer success.

RELATED: Protecting Your Media Investments From Counterfeit Inventory and Unauthorized Impressions

Commitment to quality

Our automated fraud filters effectively catch counterfeit inventory due to an ongoing analysis of domain transparency. This analysis catches instances where the domain stated in the bid request does not match the domain where the ad is served and blocks the sellers that are associated with this malicious non-transparency.

In addition to the ongoing analysis, we also run on tightly managed seller whitelists with many of our suppliers to ensure that we don’t accept traffic that has not passed our internal assessment of whether the seller is trusted and provides quality inventory. We also regularly complete manual reviews of the inventory we buy, and publishers/sellers we buy from, to ensure that we aren’t being hit by the sellers who are domain spoofing, or even simply arbitraging inventory and adding inefficiency.

As a result of these stringent measures, in our analyses of domains with ads.txt files, we have seen that over 99% of our spend for these domains is going to the authorized sellers listed in the file.

Comprehensive protection

We have always taken impression quality very seriously and have been ahead of the market when it comes to investing in people, process, and technology to protect our customers from these challenges. Our stance has been strong on this issue long before ads.txt was conceived, but we are fully supportive of ads.txt in its goal to help clean up programmatic on a larger scale, as many others in the industry have not invested as much in technology and process to clean up the supply chain.

Interested in hearing more about ads.txt? Join me this Wednesday for a webinar co-hosted with the IAB and partners SpotX, Accenture, Centro and Microsoft as we discuss the implementation of ads.txt across the supply chain.