What’s Happening?

This week, White Ops released a report detailing a massive hack that’s generating as much as $5M per day through its manipulation of the programmatic open web video ad ecosystem. This means the hack could have made as much as $1B per year in fraudulent video ad revenue.
This hack showed an unprecedented level of sophistication, going to extreme lengths in spoofing real premium websites (such as fake versions of Vogue or the New York Times), simulating human behavior when bots “watched” video ads (in order to trick viewability trackers) and faking geo-targeting information to drive higher CPMs.
Now, while this fraud is a dark day for digital advertising, it shines a bright light on the credibility of social video platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Here’s how:

1. The hackers couldn’t have made money on social video.

The way the hackers received money is in faking premium websites, putting this fake inventory on ad exchanges, then charging for real ads that were placed on those fake sites. In other words: in order to make money from fake ad traffic, you have to own the inventory. By definition, that’s not possible on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and on YouTube, the hackers would have had to steer massive amounts of views to channels they controlled, which would quickly arouse suspicion. Since YouTube keeps 45% of ad revenue, fraud at a large scale would be detected very quickly.

2. Nobody is as good as Google, Facebook and Twitter at detecting fake traffic and protecting the interests of advertisers.

Obviously, every self-respecting hacker first tries to game the largest platforms, so the social video platforms have developed cutting-edge technology to prevent all kinds of attacks. A research study last year tried to generate fake traffic on several popular video platforms, and YouTube was the only one that consistently blocked it, as visualized here (a lower bar indicates less fake traffic):

3. Social video platforms use a closed ad tech stack, and most social video is now consumed via mobile apps. Both are extremely difficult to hack.

The recent hack relied on the VAST ad standard used in open web video buying, which is potentially vulnerable to all kinds of spoofing. By contrast, the walled gardens use proprietary ad serving infrastructure that is closed off behind secure APIs. Furthermore, the majority of video consumption on these platforms is now through mobile apps, which use highly secure communication protocols and proprietary user interfaces. It would be nearly impossible to pull off a comparable hack under these circumstances.
When advertising in the open web, marketers open themselves up to much higher risks of ad fraud, as seen by this latest hack. Social video platforms, on the other hand, have built their systems to be much harder to hack, and much harder to profit from hacking.
Pixability is trusted by leading brands and their agencies to deliver video ad campaigns across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To find out how Pixability can help you reach your target audience across social video platforms, contact us today.