Bombshell Report on Video Ads Doesn’t Look Good for Google

Google is clearly the undisputed champ of online ad sales. No one serves up as many ads as Google, both on its own properties and through its partners. But now, a bombshell report looking at potential ad fraud within the video ad space does not look good for the tech industry’s most recognized company.

The research, conducted by a firm known as Adalytics, suggests that as much as 80% of all TrueView video ads sold through Google Video Partners do not deliver what Google has promised. Google has denied all claims in the report, which is to be expected. The big question is whether the data can be proved. And if so, could Google be forced to refund unhappy customers?

How Google Advertising Works

Although Google exercise unparalleled control over the internet, it doesn’t directly serve all the ads its sells. Regular pay-per-click and video ads alike are often sent to third-party partners running ad publishing networks that include everything from websites to streaming platforms. The Google Video Partners program sends TrueView ads to publishers outside of the YouTube ecosystem.

Google promises that TrueView ads will only be displayed on high quality websites and streaming platforms. The company also agrees to charge only when ads are actually viewed. Ads must be skippable, they must have audio, and they cannot be activated by the mere act of scrolling.

What makes the payment model so attractive to advertisers is that charges are not based on impressions. They are only based on actual views. So if a user chooses to skip an ad, the advertiser doesn’t get charged.

So, what’s the problem? Why does the Adalytics report boldly claims that “advertisers including Fortune 500 brands, the US federal government, and many small businesses may have been misled for years about Google’s proprietary TrueView skippable in-stream video ads.”?

Not Living Up to Its Agreement

Adalytics contends that Google has not lived up to its end of the Video Partners agreement. Their research seems to indicate that ads purchased through the service have been published on hundreds of thousands of websites, apps, and streaming platforms that do not adhere to Google standards.

For example, the Video Partners program requires publishers to not allow TrueView ads to auto play. And yet this appears to be a legitimate problem on many of the platforms receiving TrueView ads. Ads that play automatically can be played in the background without users ever seeing them. When that happens, ad fraud is taking place. Advertisers are paying to have ads viewed but those ads are not actually being viewed at all.

Adalytics data suggests that, at least in some campaigns, anywhere from 42% to 75% of the advertising spend goes to ads that wind up in apps and on platforms that fail to meet Google TrueView standards.

A Hard Thing to Police

No one is surprised that Google denies the claims made in the Adalytics report. Let us cut the company some slack and trust that, if the data is true, they were unaware of it. The fact is that stopping click and video ad fraud is not easy. Ad fraud is a challenging thing to police no matter what form it takes.

Fraudsters take advantage of the fact that there are millions of ads in circulation at any given time. The system is so saturated with website, mobile app, and streaming ads that its easily overwhelmed. Not only that, but fraudsters are also very clever in how they cover their tracks. Stopping ad fraud is not as simple as Google hiring a few more staff members dedicated to stopping fraud.

The unfortunate truth is that advertisers need to fend for themselves for the most part. They need to make the effort to track their ads to ensure they are being displayed properly and only via legitimate websites, streaming platforms, etc.

Ad Fraud Detection Software

Equally unfortunate is the fact that there is no single solution to ad fraud. A good starting place is an ad fraud detection software package like Fraud Blocker. A good software package monitors a long list of metrics designed to uncover instances of potential ad fraud in their earliest possible stages. Then advertisers and their security teams can follow up. Where necessary, they can take appropriate action.

There are also companies that offer ad fraud protection services. They use a combination of software tools and security experts to constantly monitor ad campaigns and traffic. When they see something suspicious, they conduct an investigation and respond to any threat they uncover.

Meanwhile, fraudsters are working hard to get around software solutions and security experts. The harder they work, the harder it is to keep up with them. However, it can be done.

Google Could Lose a Ton

In closing this post, it is interesting to consider the possibilities should the data in the Adalytics report be proved true. Apparently, customers are already asking for refunds. They may have little hope as long as Google continues to deny the report in the absence of any corroborating data proving otherwise. We would expect most refund requests to be denied.

But what of the allegations against Google turn out to be legit? Gizmodo seems to think it could cost Google millions, if not billions of dollars. Several billion dollars in losses would be tough to swallow even for a company like Google. Not only that, but the company’s reputation as a reliable advertiser would also surely take a hit.

Do not expect them to take the Adalytics report lying down. We should also not expect a quick resolution here. We could be in for a long and protracted disagreement between Google and those who believe the company isn’t doing enough to fight ad fraud.

A word to the wise: if your company relies on digital advertising through websites, streaming platforms, and mobile apps, do not expect Google and its publishing partners to help you prevent ad fraud. At the end of the day, prevention is in the hands of the advertisers themselves.