While the issue of paid and often fraudulent traffic is a known one, this is typically assumed to be a tactic employed by fly-by-night scammers who set up “fake” websites to serve ads.
But an investigative report (PDF) recently published by Social Puncher, “an independent company that serves as a sheriff in the digital ad market”, suggests that publishers seen as legitimate can be the source of fraud.
The report claims Newsweek Media Group (NMG), whose digital properties include Newsweek.com and IBTimes.com, paid for fraudulent traffic that led to it earning millions in ad revenue from an ad campaign run by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Specifically, the report alleges that “Ibtimes.com in spring 2017 (March-May) received 13,300,000 of laundered via tech domain pop-under visits and 5,500,000 non-laundered pop-under visits.”
Many of the sites originating this traffic were said to be file sharing and pirated video streaming sites. Layers of redirects were used to hide the origin of the traffic, Social Puncher’s report states.
BuzzFeed, which conducted its own investigation into IBTimes India, says that two independent ad fraud detection and measurement firms identified similar patterns. One of those firms, DoubleVerify, has this month “classified IBT’s US, UK, India, and Singapore sites as ‘as having fraud or sophisticated invalid traffic’”.