Fighting Mobile Ad Fraud in the App Age

Richard Kahn - May 15, 2018

With an estimated 237.6 million smartphone users in the United States alone, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that mobile advertising continues to thrive. Unfortunately, that also means fraudsters have another money-making channel at their disposal.

To mitigate mobile ad fraud, some marketers suggest installing fraud prevention SDKs (software development kits) within mobile apps. But not every app developer is willing to install anti-fraud SDKs, especially those who benefit from—or actively participate in—ad fraud.

Weeding Out the Bad Apps

Because of security measures taken by the Apple App Store and Google Play, lots of people believe that in-app mobile traffic is clean. But as we’ve learned, that isn’t quite the case.

Just like marketers, fraudsters are always optimizing their schemes, testing out which malicious app versions can successfully pass through app stores’ security filters. Depending on the fraud scheme complexity, some apps may be downloaded millions of times before they’re discovered and pulled.

Related Post: How to Tell If You’re at Fault or You Have Ad Fraud

To make matters worse, many smartphone users bypass protected app stores completely, downloading apps directly from developers or through web and email links. Out there, it’s fair game; without even the slightest vetting, those apps could contain anything.

Defending From All Sides

So what's the solution? Instead of passing all responsibility over to the app developers, let’s shift the focus to the network side of the equation.

rtb-mobile-ad-exchangeSource: BidMotion

Ad exchanges need to keep their traffic clean, otherwise advertisers won’t buy their inventory. And although bigger exchanges already filter their traffic, marketers should stay proactive throughout the buying process, employing methods to monitor mobile traffic themselves.

First, if you’re looking to partner with an exchange, do your research. Choose one that implements a pre-bid fraud prevention model that cuts out fraudulent traffic well before bidding begins.

On the advertiser side, consider adding an ad fraud solution to your arsenal, but choose wisely. Some solutions on the market determine if you have ad fraud using only a handful of vanity metrics, the most common being viewability.

Related Post: How to Use Data Like an Analytics Junkie

To make sounder judgments, test out ad fraud solutions that dig deeper into user behavior. Patterns within your data may emerge that could be signs of fraudulent behavior, such as an influx of users coming from strange locations or outdated mobile devices. Once you have a better idea of what’s happening with your traffic, you can then block questionable sources at the exchange level for future campaigns.

Don’t wait for app developers to adopt fraud prevention SDKs anytime soon. Protect your mobile campaigns and boost your overall mobile ad performance by dealing only with legitimate exchanges and making decisions based on real user data.

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Richard Kahn

Rich Kahn is the Co-Founder and CEO of, an ad fraud solution that monitors traffic to identify real users versus bots, malware, and human fraud. Anura is the culmination of more than a decade of fraud detection efforts within digital marketing firm, which Rich also co-founded and owns. Previously, Rich held management roles at Verizon Wireless and Bloomberg, before starting his own internet service provider, First Street Corporation. He co-founded Paid for Surf, an advertising software company, and was the COO of the pay per click advertising network AdOrigin. Rich is considered an industry expert, having over 25 years of global experience with internet technology, digital advertising, ad fraud management, and elimination.