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White Ops

Fighting the bot invasion: how to clean up your data and stop losing money

Bots are everywhere, infecting all aspects of digital marketing – from lead generation display, video, organic traffic, to native, social, SEO and keyword search. A leading marketer says we need to work together to combat fraud…

Bots are responsible for billions of dollars of losses for businesses across the globe, they’re more sophisticated than ever before and they’re getting smarter, according to Dan Lowden, chief marketing officer of White Ops.

Speaking at Performance Marketing 360, he warned marketers that many of the supposed humans populating their databases were no such thing.

Whereas in the past, bots were easy to recognise – “they lived in data centres and lacked cookies, they behaved like bots” – today’s bots are spawned by organised crime syndicates, companies that “have executive teams, two-week sprints and employee evaluation programmes”.

“They are constantly innovating and if we put up new code on a Friday, we see them poking around on a Saturday. That’s how good they are,” Lowden said.

He said bots glean user data: usernames, passwords, email addresses and personal information. They then find ways to put malware on people’s devices – be it a mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop.

Real life cylons
“Once the malware is on a device, it looks like a human, it acts like a human and to the advertisers and marketers out there it looks like you’re engaging with a real human,” Lowden said.

For unsuspecting consumers, they “could be on a device going to an ecommerce site, to a regular site or email”.

“But in the background because the malware has entered their device through phishing campaigns or email blasts, that malware in the background is invisible to the user. It might be slowing down their system or running down their battery, but in the background it’s doing some really bad things.”

Likewise for marketers, the ramifications are serious. Bots can infiltrate marketing campaigns, “flow to your websites, flow to your forms and get into your tech stack”, affecting everything from “marketing automation data management, CRM and personalisation”.

“Your data becomes dirty because a good amount of that is sophisticated bot activity and not real humans. Then, when you try and retarget your customers, you’re actually retargeting people who never signed up in the first place,” Lowden explained.

Do bots dream of electric cars?
Clearly companies want to prevent such fraud. But the challenge is that bots now live on devices. “They have user IDs and device IDs, they replay normal distribution of behaviours that mimic real humans.”

Lowden cited an unnamed luxury automotive manufacturer that White Ops worked with. The company had a marketing budget in the millions and was running a campaign aimed at getting people to test drive their vehicles. But when consumers who had never submitted their details were contacted, it became apparent that fraudulent activity was the culprit. White Ops managed to isolate the bot activity and remove it, cutting fraud from 37% to 0%.

The laws of robotics
The company’s mission is to stop such attacks, to disrupt the economics of cybercrime to make it harder for these criminals to impact marketing.

“What we are able to show customers through our Marketing Integrity product, is full visibility of where the traffic is coming from from your campaigns, to your website, to your form-fills.

“We put a JavaScript tag on a page, it’s that simple. And we’re able to detect in less than five milliseconds where it’s a human or where it’s a sophisticated bot, and where this traffic is coming from, by campaign, by source, by trend, by page, by session, by platform, the environment and the operating system level of data.”

White Ops checks the veracity or otherwise of more than 10 trillion interactions per week and in some cases, Lowden said, it has worked with “law enforcement and other top brands to take some of these organisations down and put some of them in jail”.

He argued that while marketing fraud is clearly a huge and costly problem, it’s by no means insurmountable.

“It’s a tough subject,” he said. “But at the same time it’s a subject that as a marketing industry, we can face together and focus on fixing the issue.

“It is very fixable. It can drive substantial business results and improve the ROI of your campaigns, help you professionally and help your business drive better business results.”

For more information, White Ops has published a report entitled ‘WTF is marketing fraud?’ on its website that goes into further detail. Find it here >>>

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