Digital Advertising, Bad Bet? Bad Bot!

Tip of the Week


Last year, White Ops, the self-proclaimed “global pioneer in deterministic botnet detection and sophisticated digital fraud” issued the results of a study. Here’s a highlight of their results.

We expected to find bogus websites with nothing but a bot audience,
but out of nearly 3 million websites covered in the study, mere thousands were completely bogus.
Most of the bots visited real websites run by real companies with real human visitors.
Those bots inflated the monetized audiences at those sites by 5-50 percent.

The results, they stated, were that:

  • Advertisers will lose $6.2B globally this year
  • Ad fraud gets home users hacked
  • Ad bots defeats user targeting

I’m sometimes asked my opinion about buying digital ads to promote one’s crowdfunding campaign. I usually beg off the question because I’ve never used the tactic myself, and because I’m personally very unfazed by digital ads, so I never saw the benefits of them. A more recent report not only strongly suggests you should save your money, but the bot frauds hit closer to home in this one.

It was a study that was released almost two weeks ago, one which I expected would catch like wildfire on blogs, groups, and forums I read. The results, though not altogether surprising were still to my mind offensive and kind of scandalous. Rather than writing about it I thought I’d wait to read what others had to say. But instead of outrage so far I’ve heard crickets.

So here’s the bad news.

It turns out that from 88% to 98% of digital ads we pay for are clicked by bots, not thinking, discerning humans. And the fraudsters aren’t fringe offenders; they are companies we rely on and respect like—this one broke my heart—LinkedIn. They came in at 88% fake, with the worst offender being Google, at 98%. Good old Facebook and Yahoo tied at 94%.

Oxford InfographicClick to enlarge

The data were revealed by a Luxembourg-based company that works in human-recognition technology called Oxford BioChronometrics, a startup from Oxford University, which last year spun out into the private sector in order to continue to further commercialize their technology. According to their site, Biochronometrics calculates changes in our biological behavior.

Good news or more bad news?

The bot fraud is part of a bigger study the team has been working on. Last July’s unveiling informed us that we each leave an imprint through our common behaviors, such as mouse movements or typing speed. Put it all together and it’s called eDNA (electronically Defined Natural Attributes). Over time, the technology allows tracking and identifying up to 500 behaviors— such as drug use, sexual activity, and even whether you’re prone to heart attacks—of users whenever they log onto their computers or smartphone.

The benefit, they say, is that it will immediately confirm identity and reduce the rate of hacking. Whether it’s worth giving up our privacy remains to be seen, though we all know the truth is that ship probably sailed long ago.

To read the full report, go here.


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