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Massive hidden video ad fraud scheme drained the battery and sucked data on Android devices

The scheme hid autoplaying video ads behind visible in-app ad banners and resulted in 60 million fraudulent ad calls per month.
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With declining click-through rates and other woes, the question of whether or not banner ad campaigns work and deliver desired results to brands paying for them has been a long-debated topic.

But the answer becomes pretty straight-forward if the ads in question are never actually seen by anyone.

This happens when advertisers buy banner ads that fraudsters hide behind legitimate ones – the only ones users can see. In the background, invisible and useless to those who purchased them, the hidden ads still report as seen and completed.

One such large scale ad fraud scheme has been discovered by Protected Media, who specialize in fraud detection, BuzzFeed is reporting.

According to the article, another anti-fraud firm, DoubleVerify, also discovered the same illegal operation in late 2018.

The website said it has been able to confirm the scheme that involved autoplaying video ads hijacking visible in-app ad banners.

More damage was done down the line, as Android users running apps with fraudulent advertisements experienced unexplained data loss and battery drain, which in turn affected the reputation of the developers of these apps. Although they were using MoPub, Twitter’s monetization platform for mobile app publishers and developers, Twitter itself was found to be uninvolved.

But BuzzFeed said it identified the company that did take part in the scheme: Israel’s Aniview, and OutStream Media, its subsidiary said to have produced the code and the banners. Aniview for its part denied being the culprit here and said that a third party, which CEO Alon Carmel said could not be named for legal reasons, was to blame.

Protected Media’s CEO Asaf Greiner, however, told BuzzFeed that the information gathered by his company proves direct connection between OutStream Media and the bad ads.

Various forms of ad fraud are projected to cost the advertising industry over $20 billion this year alone, the website is reporting. And it’s a type of crime all the more difficult to suppress because, as Greiner observed, even various uninvolved intermediaries get some of the money – providing them with little encouragement to stop fraud.

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