IAB Tech Lab debuts ads.txt project to weed out fake ad sellers

Buyers will be able to authenticate verified sellers across publishers. There is broad support for industry-wide adoption.

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The IAB Tech Lab has introduced a tool to help eliminate counterfeit and unauthorized inventory by cutting illegitimate sellers out of the supply chain. Called ads.txt, the solution enables publishers to declare publicly which sellers are authorized to sell their inventory in a file posted to their domains. Like a robot.txt file, ads.txt ensures trust because the file must be posted to the site by the publisher. Publishers can also update the text file easily with data available in the OpenRTB protocol. In this example, a publisher lists three exchanges as authorized to sell their ads. A buyer can verify if the exchange and publisher ID match what’s in the authorized sellers list in the ads.txt file. Programmatic buyers can then scan ads.txt files to compile lists of authorized sellers for each publisher in order to screen out untrustworthy impressions and verify the authenticity of impressions being sold. Ads.txt was developed by the IAB OpenRTB Working Group, and in addition to publishers, it supports ad networks, exchanges and content syndication partnerships in which multiple authorized sellers represent the same inventory.
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“Ads.txt can take both the ‘fake Rolexes’ of digital ad inventory and our industry’s ‘luxury handbags that fell off the back of a truck’ out of circulation,” said Alanna Gombert, who is senior vice president of technology and ad operations at the IAB and general manager of the IAB Tech Lab. “With the introduction of this simple supply chain safety tool, there will be no excuses for bad impressions flowing through our ecosystem.” In an effort to boost adoption, Mike Zaneis, CEO of the industry group Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), is referring ads.txt to the group’s Business Transparency Committee. “The ads.txt tool will help publishers shine a light on the legitimate sellers for their inventory, so brands and agencies will know when they are dealing with a legitimate programmatic reseller and when they are not,” said Zaneis. “It adds another vital component to our collaborative industry-wide efforts to validate legitimate companies, add transparency to inventory, and ultimately stop criminals from defrauding our industry of billions of dollars.” With widespread adoption, ads.txt should instill greater trust in digital advertising supply chain. “Recurring issues around brand safety, fraud, and media quality undermine trust in the industry and advertisers deserve a real response that moves us beyond the next crisis,” said Chris Bell, group product manager of inventory at Adobe Advertising Cloud. “The IAB Tech Lab’s ads.txt is a positive step that should benefit both buyers and publishers, ensuring broad adoption across the industry.” Public comments will be accepted through June 19. The IAB OpenRTB Working Group will then make any needed revisions and release a final version.

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About the author

Ginny Marvin
Ginny Marvin was formerly Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day-to-day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin wrote about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

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