Marketers need to engage in protective measures when buying in-app ads, according to new research that identified significant mobile ad fraud in both certified and uncertified apps.

Ad fraud appears on 52 per cent of uncertified apps and in 8 per cent of certified app traffic, according to a new whitepaper released by Sizmek.

The study, Advertising Fraud in Mobile Apps, uncovers the staggering volume of malicious traffic—manifested as unsolicited or nonviewable advertising—which has the potential to increase advertiser costs and impart a poor experience for users by slowing phone speeds and draining battery life.

Sizmek analysed around 20 billion app impressions on iOS and Android devices. In total, approximately 24,000 apps not certified by official stores were discovered to be generating malicious traffic. Uncertified apps are side-loaded from alternative app stores or third-party sources.

However certified apps, those downloaded from Apple App Store on iOS or Google Play on Android, are not immune from malicious activity. Sizmek found instances of malicious traffic in around 4,000 certified apps.

These apps defraud advertisers by running ads that can’t be seen. Some of these apps ran ads at a rapid pace—20 to 30 ads per minute, and a few had a “politeness” policy of running at a pace of four to five ads per minute. Dozens of blacklisted developers were found on both Google Play and the App Store. While about half of fraudulent traffic came from game apps, Sizmek also found malicious activity on a wide range of other categories, including top-rated and popular apps.

Sizmek recommends app stores get to work improving their auditing process to exclude more apps that are generating fraudulent ad impressions.

“Uncertified apps have become a breeding ground for fraud, so brands need to be vigilant with their mobile targeting as well as their blacklists when seeking safe options to reach and impact audiences via mobile,” said Zach Schapira, product marketing manager of Sizmek.

“If an advertiser is deploying a piece of their budget towards in-app advertising, it’s important that they understand that malicious activity does not discriminate. As a result, it’s vital that advertisers utilise the brand safety measures available to them when planning campaigns.”

The report notes that while not all uncertified apps performed malicious activity, the prevalence is high enough that advertisers might consider filtering uncertified apps from their media buy. In addition to malicious activity, uncertified apps also have a high correlation with unstable and illegally downloaded apps, which advertisers might want to avoid for brand safety reasons.

For example, most malicious apps come in the guise of children’s games that end up behaving like a virus on the mobile device. Once installed and opened, these apps download and install more apps by the same developer in the background without the permission of the user.

Beyond removing uncertified app traffic from media buys, other mobile app parameters such as usage, ratings, and unique downloads could be targeted in order to capture higher quality impressions.

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