Digital media measurement company comScore revealed a deal Monday to acquire MdotLabs, a cyber-security startup that uses statistics and machine-learning to fight online fraud.
Non-human traffic, click-farms and other "invalid activity" represent a
$14 billion assault on the advertising industry and have spurred deals in online fraud detection, most notably Google’s acqui-hire of Spider.io earlier this year.
MdotLabs was founded in 2013 and employs 12 – including three PhD scientists. This team, including cofounders Paul Barford and Timur Yarnal, will join comScore. MdotLabs clients range from Meredith Corp. to LiveRail.
Upon acquisition, comScore will integrate some of MdotLabs’ rules, techniques and technology into comScore’s digital content measurement tool Media Metrix and Validated Campaign Essentials (vCE – which measures the audience exposed to digital ads). ComScore said the deal is also about securing talent to aid in technology and product innovation in the continuing fight against ad fraud.
ComScore has additional incentive to ensure digital audiences are human: It’s planning a
fall release of a Total Video Cross-Platform Planning System and Video Metrix audience-tracking tool.
“With our video launch, the television portion [will be] brought in and in order to have that comparability, you have to make sure the digital portion is all human because the television GRPs are,” said Anne Hunter, SVP of global marketing strategy at comScore.
MdotLabs’ strength in video was a differentiator for comScore.
“When marketers who are accustomed to buying television look for an equivalent measurement to analyze their digital campaigns, we think this Mdot acquisition strengthens our offering there because they’ll have a human GRP equivalent,” Hunter said. “When GRPs get put into cross-platform planning and mix modeling, it’s critical you’re actually calculating human GRP and we see that and are making the investment to make sure we meet clients’ needs.”
Because the video channel commands such strong CPMs, scammers are resorting to advanced techniques to game the system.
One such technique, explained Timur Yarnall, cofounder and CEO of MdotLabs, is the "drone pool," where fraudsters are starting to turn to cloud-based servers to imitate human traffic as opposed to traditional bot nets where a hacker writes a piece of code and infects people’s machines. This is markedly more advanced and damaging, since the method could have far more wide-reaching an impact than one infected personal PC. Just as one cloud server can power a whole host of sites and networks, so too can it be used for fraudulent purposes.
Another driver for the MdotLabs acquisition is ComScore’s desire to bulk up on sell-side non-human traffic detection. ComScore Validated Media Essentials helps publishers with their inventory planning against such factors as viewability, audience demography and non-human detection.
“In the past three months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the sell-side’s acknowledgement of NHT,” Hunter said. “They’re doing traffic acquisition and they don’t want to find out about [NHT] when they’re running an ad campaign. They want to handle it proactively.
ComScore deploys what it calls “triple-defense” non-human traffic detection, which includes identifying human behavior patterns inclusive of the comScore panel of two million-plus Internet users, the comScore Census Network, tag analysis on consumer usage patterns and the latest integration of MdotLabs, “which allows us to layer in additional NHT detection methods we can then codify to Media Metrix and vCE sides of the business.”