In-App Fraud Erodes Trust in Ads for Mobile Games: Q&A with Asaf Greiner, Protected Media

For many gaming developers, there is a fear of advertising; and one of the major reasons for this is the bad publicity around fraud. TheGamingEconomy speaks exclusively with Asaf Greiner, CEO and co-founder, Protected Media, about why in-app fraud continues to be a challenge, and how gaming developers can get one step ahead.

TheGamingEconomy: In-app fraud seems to be becoming increasingly sophisticated. What are some examples of in-app fraud and how big is the problem? 

Asaf Greiner: Today, growth and revenues are primarily from in-app, since this is where mobile users are spending a large percentage of their time.

There is a huge amount of opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of apps exist, across nearly every mobile system, for practically any type of digital interaction and content consumption. Fraud can seep in at any stage – from clicks, to installs, to game play.

Culprits range from sophisticated cyber criminals to less than reputable members of the ad-tech chain who have access to specific vulnerabilities and technologies.

One of the biggest problems in-app we see today is 'impersonation' or spoofing. A fraudster could buy podcast traffic that includes long view times, and mask the traffic source to claim that the traffic is from a premium app. It’s a tricky scheme to identify because, for all intents and purposes, the user is real. Every measurement will say this is good traffic, but the ads are never viewed.

We’re also seeing an increase in SDK spoofing, where an installed app signals that another SDK has been installed, when in fact it hasn't. The original publisher will receive an affiliate fee from the second app; and in reality this second installation never took place. 

How is in-app fraud affecting the mobile gaming industry?

In-app fraud erodes trust in digital advertising for mobile games, which lowers the revenue opportunities for publishers, and puts an additional burden of having them detect and prevent fraud from eroding advertisers’ trust and the perceived value of their real estate. 

Why are mobile gaming apps such an attractive environment for fraud?

The gaming market is huge and it catches people in the state of mind that is attractive for advertisers – it is perceived as a very effective medium. At the same time, advertisers are less knowledgeable about gaming publishers, so it can be easier to add fraudulent traffic and manipulate ad measurements. 

In addition, as long as the user experience is satisfactory and apps aren’t draining batteries, fraudsters can continue faking downloads, opening apps, and app usage without anyone knowing the difference. 

Cheetah Mobile has recently implemented Protected Media’s solutions for ad fraud detection and prevention. How do they mitigate in-app fraud? 

Cheetah Mobile is taking a pioneering step, leveraging a cutting-edge solution, comprised of both AI technologies and traditional cyber security methodologies, in order to protect their premium advertisers and the integrity of their market-leading applications. Protected Media’s solution for advertisers and publishers provides multilayered ad-fraud detection and prevention, to accurately identify the source of bad traffic at the most granular level, providing both publisher and advertiser with transparency and trust. 

Outside of the obvious issues of lost ad spend/revenue for gaming advertisers/publishers, what other issues go hand-in-hand with in-app fraud?

Fraud is responsible for eroding the publisher/advertiser relationship. And together with the loss in trust, advertisers also have skewed data and are making bad calls on their creatives and campaigns. Fraud that is not identified can leave marketers scratching their heads as they look at the skewed data and attempt to decipher what went wrong with their campaign, considering all of the variables, oblivious to the fact that adjusting any of the variables will not have an impact on the campaign if it was subjected to fraud.

There can also be a poor user experience, resulting in users abandoning apps, while also tarnishing a publisher’s reputation.

Beyond working with fraud detection and prevention experts as standard, what extra steps should gaming advertisers and publishers be adopting, to ensure they are mitigating fraud risk as much as possible?

The key is to acknowledge that anyone can be a target for fraud, so don’t ignore the problem. Set up internal checks to make sure that you are confident that your traffic sources are clean. Be vocal – ignoring fraud doesn’t make advertisers forget about it, and the fraud will never just disappear. Put the issue on the table and demonstrate that you are taking this threat seriously – expose the actions you’re taking to detect and stop the fraud. Give your advertisers confidence and take part in initiatives, like the IAB tech labs open measurement group. Use their SDKs and remain as transparent as possible, without violating your own intellectual property. Actions that validate the advertiser experience will go a long way.