3 ways to beat location ad-fraud

Mark Slade, CEO, Location Sciences, explains how brands can ensure the location data they are using is authentic.


Location holds huge power in advertising. In fact, mobile accounted for $76.17 billion of US media ad spend in 2018, according to eMarketer, and a large proportion of this was location-targeted.

Brands and agencies are grabbing the opportunity to deliver high impact location-targeted campaigns with both hands. However, few have taken the time to assess the quality of the third-party data underpinning their activities. This could prove to be costly.

The sad truth is that the location advertising landscape is plagued by fraud. There are unclear methodologies, and wildly different standards in quality, making it impossible to separate the good data from the bad.

The issue of location ad-fraud cannot be underestimated. Brands and their agencies count on the fact that the premium location data they buy to drive media campaign decisions is valid. Yet manipulation and bad practice is widespread across the entire value chain, and the data cannot always be trusted.

With huge sums of ad spend at risk, brands and their agencies must turn their attention to the quality of location signals. Here’s how they can beat location ad-fraud and ensure their campaigns reach real and relevant mobile audiences:

1. Know your GPS from your IP data

Location data can be divided into two categories, and understanding how they differ is the first step for brands to identify potential quality issues. These two types of data are GPS and IP, and your campaign goals will determine which you use. While drilling down to more localised areas will require GPS data, IP data is the most cost-effective solution for city-level targeting. With GPS data, one of the things to be aware of is the ability for an unscrupulous app publisher to provide a randomly-generated location in place of a real one. With IP data, brands need to manage quality by monitoring the uniqueness of the IP address and the quality of the IP-to-location database being used.  

2. Identify anomalies

Brands must have a clear view of where ads are being served and then monitor performance throughout the campaign lifecycle. This will help them to pick up on quality issues, for example mobile users appearing to be at multiple locations a large distance apart within a short space of time. It’s simply not possible for a user to be in London one minute and in Leeds the next. Other red flags might be a location that appears to be in the middle of the Thames, or an app that is sending multiple device IDs from the same location.

3. Strive for better standards

The location data marketplace remains unregulated and unmonitored, making the quality and authenticity of location signals impossible to verify. While we already have initiatives such as the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards for brand safety, and ads.txt for fraud, the quality of location data is being neglected. Brands must ensure that it is held to account, using technology that independently authenticates location to make sure budget is spent how and where it is intended. 

Greater transparency over location quality and location ad-fraud will help brands make sure ad spend is maximised. By turning their attention to this issue, they will be able to ensure locations are accurate and their campaigns are optimised.

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