User authentication company Are You a Human started in 2007 with its CAPTCHA replacement tool, PlayThru, which fights back against fraudulent impressions and bots that have become increasingly effective in mimicking real users. The tool uses interactive visual tasks – say, dragging a virtual ball into a bucket – that are more difficult for bots to fool.
Co-founder Tyler Paxton has said the idea came about after a run on Hannah Montana tickets by scalpers' bots meant the minutes he took to verify himself meant the show was sold out before he had a chance to buy. Now the company is finding more uses for its tool – and the data it provides – after hiring Ben Trenda, a former senior executive with iSocket and Rubicon Project, as CEO in April.
It’s a “cat-and-mouse game” against bots, Trenda said, but by requiring visual interaction on the screen Are You a Human makes it much more difficult for bots to imitate a real person. “Bots aren’t able to do this.”
More accurate identification of bots can lead to more efficient spending of ad dollars for marketers, a higher value on impressions for publishers and a valuable data set of verified human users for everyone, Trenda said.
Using PlayThru on a video ad campaign, for example, Bacardi offered users the chance to skip a video ad by pouring a virtual drink. At face value this seems to be a good tool for verifying human impressions, but Trenda said campaign performance also increased as a result of incentivizing user interaction.
“What’s counterintuitive and interesting about it is the after-campaign brand metrics are much higher,” Trenda said, citing a 12% increase in awareness and 40% increase in favorability among users who are offered the task. “You actually perform better when they don’t watch your ad.”
Perhaps most importantly, as Are You a Human has expanded to 13,000 sites, it has collected data on which users are human. Trenda called it the “the ad industry's only data set that quantifies which users are actually human” and said the company is shopping that data to publishers and agency trading desks.
“The single biggest determinate of ability to drive performance is just eliminating that bot traffic,” he said.
The next step for Are You a Human is its partnerships with large publishers, whom it’s working with to provide its CAPTCHA replacement service while also collecting more data from higher volumes of users for a more compelling data set.
The company has 10 employees in offices in Detroit and New York, and Trenda said headcount is expected to triple this year as the company works on finalizing a Series A round. To date, Are You a Human has raised $3.4 million.