The team at DoubleVerify, a company that helps advertisers eliminate fraud and ensure brand safety, said that it's recently identified a new tactic used by ad fraudsters seeking to make money on internet-connected TVs.
Senior Vice President of Product Management Roy Rosenfeld said that it's harder for those fraudsters to create a legitimate-looking TV app — at least compared to the web and mobile, where "you can just put up a site [or app] to generate content." For a connected TV app, you need lots of video, which can be costly and time-consuming to produce.
"What these guys have started to do is take old content that’s in the public domain and package that in fancy-looking CTV apps that they submit to the platform," Rosenfeld said. "But at the end of the day, no one is really watching the old westerns or anything like that. This is just a vehicle to get into the app stores."
As noted in a new report from the company (which will soon be available online), DoubleVerify said it has identified more than 1,300 fraudulent CTV apps in the past 18 months, with more than half of that coming in 2020.
The report outlined a process by which fraudsters create an app from this content (often old TV and movies from the '50s and '60s that has fallen into the public domain); submit the app for approval from Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV; then, with the additional legitimacy of an app store ID, generate fake traffic and impressions.
Rosenfeld compared this to a previous boom in flashlight apps for smartphones: "Are there legit flashlight apps? Absolutely. But most of them were not." In the same way, he argued, "This is not a testament about public domain content overall, it’s not to say that there aren’t legit channels and apps out there that people are consuming and enjoying" — it's just that many of the public domain apps being submitted are used for ad fraud.
To avoid paying for fake impressions, DoubleVerify recommends that advertisers advocate for transparency standards, buy from platforms that support third-party verification and, of course, buy through ad platforms certified by DoubleVerify.