Beware of the bots – transparency in digital media


Trust, transparency and trading practices have all become major talking points for agencies and their clients over the last few years. The ANA’s report into US media transparency, back before Covid was a thing or even the Brexit referendum had taken place, shone a spotlight on #rebategate. Trust in agency practices has improved, but the December 2021 ID Comms report into media transparency still shows a massive lack of trust within the digital ecosystem and supply chain. 76% of respondents say they are not confident in current levels of transparency in the digital supply chain, while zero percent say they are confident!

Media quality, brand safety, viewability and ad fraud are all areas of concern. Bot traffic is not something new and has been around since the early days of computers, though it’s important to note, not all bot traffic is bad. Search engine bots, metric crawlers and website health checkers are all forms of bot traffic, but it is the bad ones like spam bots, hacker tools and impersonators that still account for roughly 24% of all website traffic. What is concerning though is that these bad bots are getting increasingly clever and you’d be forgiven for thinking that closed environments like Facebook are immune.

At first glance, you’d wonder why bot traffic would even exist in social platforms – fake impressions and clicks are only going to earn the platforms more money and not themselves, so it is hard to comprehend. Yet to outsmart sophisticated technologies like MOAT or IAS, bots have had to build digital profiles that look like real humans – to be on social platforms, to engage with content, to trick these tools into thinking they are in fact actual people.

For this reason, when our client GWI came to us with their launch campaign running across London and New York, we recommended the inclusion of a piece of technology that looks to combine data analytics with transparent reporting across social platforms.

As part of the solution, we ran an initial 2 week test to determine a baseline of current delivery – an unprotected traffic audit. The results were shocking! 55% of traffic was fraudulent. Of the 1,615 link clicks recorded, 888 were from suspected bots.

Whilst it is commonplace for anti-fraud software to be implemented for digital campaigns running across the open web, people seem to be unaware that social can also be a breeding ground for such nefarious activity. By implementing such technology, we can ensure we are reaching real people and in turn boost efficiency and effectiveness considerably.

For confidence levels to increase amongst media, marketing and procurement professionals, the big players like Facebook need to take note. Transparency, probably the biggest buzz word of all, may have moved on from rebates and trading deals but it is still floundering. Its time for the big players to take note and clean up their supply chain too!

Written by Sam Griffith, Digital Lead, december19