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Google, others partner with ad industry to block data center bot traffic

To thwart ad bots that cost the digital advertisers billions a year, the advertising industry has partnered with Google to give its latest effort some technical fire power.

Google’s Anti-Fraud Working Group has agreed to give the industry’s Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) access to its database of data center IP addresses, which will allow the digital ad industry to block illegitimate and non-human ad traffic that originates from certain data centers.

Bot traffic – software that masquerades as people clicking a digital advertisement – is a big contributor to ad fraud.  It accounts for more than $6 billion of the $50 billion spent on digital advertising, according to a study by White Ops, a botnet detection firm.

Data centers are one of the many sources of non-human or illegitimate ad traffic plaguing digital advertisers. Having Google as a partner to help short-circuit these fake click-throughs is a big leg-up for the newly formed TAG. If any company knows everything about data centers and advertising on the Internet it’s Google, which relies on advertising for 90 percent of its revenue.

“To be able to plug into Google’s Anti-Fraud team intelligence and then to supplement it with all these other companies, is a big deal,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG.

Other Internet companies joining the pilot launch are Distillery, Facebook, MediaMath, Quantcast, Rubicon Project, The Trade Desk, TubeMogul, and Yahoo.

Plans are for the data center project to go live by the end of the year.

Some unscrupulous publishers will go to great lengths to increase traffic to their site, using data centers to unleash a horde of software bots that masquerade as humans responding to ads.

For example, Google found that software known as UrlSpirit that generated a monthly rate of at least half a billion ad requests, an average of 2,5000 fraudulent ad requests per installation per day. Another, HitLeap generated a billion fraudulent ad requests per month, or 1,600 ad requests per installation per day.

“This is an important, early step toward tackling fraudulent and illegitimate inventory across the industry and we look forward to sharing more in the future,” Vegard Johnsen, product manager of Google ad traffic quality, wrote in a blog post. “By pooling our collective efforts and working with industry bodies, we can create strong defenses against those looking to take advantage of our ecosystem.

The new pilot program to block ad fraud from data centers will complement TAG’s Fraud Threat List  of web domain sources of fraudulent traffic. The Fraud Threat List could go live as soon as September.

TAG was formed last year by the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.