Ads.txt: Digital Ad Industry Aims to Stop Fraud With New Initiative

The IAB Tech Lab borrows a concept from the online publishing world, the robots.txt file, as part of a new initiative to prevent illicit or unwanted banner ads from showing up online.

Nearly every website on the internet has a rules-of-the-road for search engines, a small file called robots.txt that lets online scrapers know what is and isn’t OK to do.

It’s an approach that creates transparency and ensures that website owners have control over what shows up in a search engine.

Considering the long record of success this approach has had, it only makes sense that programmatic advertising, a sector similarly driven by automation, might want to follow suit.

That’s why the Interactive Advertising Bureau Tech Lab recently announced a new initiative it calls ads.txt, which allows website owners to white list authorized ad sellers while weeding out questionable or counterfeit ads.

“By creating a public record of Authorized Digital Sellers, ads.txt will create greater transparency in the inventory supply chain, and give publishers control over their inventory in the market, making it harder for bad actors to profit from selling counterfeit inventory across the ecosystem,” the IAB Tech Lab explained on its website. “As publishers adopt ads.txt, buyers will be able to more easily identify the Authorized Digital Sellers for a participating publisher, allowing brands to have confidence they are buying authentic publisher inventory.”

The strategy formulated by the lab is intended to help limit fraud, which negatively affects both publishers and advertisers. It quickly gained support from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an antifraud industry coalition backed by IAB, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). The coalition pledged to push adoption of the tool industry-wide.

“The criminals who profit from digital advertising do their dirty work in the dark. The ads.txt tool will help publishers shine a light on the legitimate sellers for their inventory, so brands and agencies will know when they are dealing with a legitimate programmatic reseller, and when they are not,” TAG CEO Mike Zaneis explained in a news release. “It adds another vital component to our collaborative industrywide efforts to validate legitimate companies, add transparency to inventory, and ultimately stop criminals from defrauding our industry of billions of dollars.”

The approach also won praise from individual publishers. Pete Spande, the chief revenue officer of Business Insider, applauded the initiative in a guest column for AdExchanger—while noting immediate uptake was essential for ads.txt to take off.

“Put simply, for ads.txt to work, each part of the programmatic ad ecosystem must play its part to ensure it becomes the standard in the industry,” Spande said.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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