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Are You Using Ads.txt?

Itay Vilenchuk
Director of Strategic Partnerships, US
 
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Let’s take a minute to talk about ads.txt, the text file that’s bringing transparency to the forefront of the programmatic landscape. What is ads.txt? Should you adopt it? And, how will it impact the future of programmatic?

What is ads.txt?

First introduced last May by IAB, ads.txt (Authorized Digital Sellers) is a text file which lists all companies that are authorized to sell a publisher’s inventory, including authorized direct sellers and resellers. Once a publisher adds the ads.txt file on their domain, they are the only ones with access to update or make any changes to the file. This file is then available for buyers to more clearly identify and bid on authentic inventory.

The main idea behind ads.txt is to have a simple solution for publishers that combats fraud and prevents spoofing (domain masking) from non-authorized sellers of a domain. If you aren’t familiar with the term, domain spoofing is when a supply source sells inventory claimed to be linked from specific URLs (typically from premium publishers) but is actually from a mix of fraudulent sites or low quality domains. This is the most common type of fraud for publishers and brands today.

The reality of adding ads.txt

While few publishers were quick to add ads.txt from the beginning, more and more publishers are beginning to adopt the text file as the benefits continue to be recognized within the ad tech community. The New York Times, Vox Media, ESPN, Forbes, and Business Insider are just a few publishers that currently use ads.txt. As for the demand side, it has become clear to DSPs that ads.txt could have an immediate impact on their revenue. This is a shared concern for publishers as well, who risk decreased brand performance, market value, and eCPM. Additionally, with publishers listing all of their partners, there’s the minor issue of becoming overly transparent.

But the reality is that Google is already planning on blocking non-authorized selling from their exchange by filtering for the ads.txt tag. According to Google, there are already over 14,000 domains that have added the text file, and that number will only continue to grow. With Google moving forward, it won’t be much longer before others will embrace ads.txt as a standard.

The future for ads.txt

For the time being, there’s talk of updating the file to include geos or specifying ad units according to sellers, such as US video inventory is sold by X, and banners are sold by Y and Z. But, the big question is how to expand this solution from web and mobile to include in-app inventory.

Recently at Programmatic I/O this issue was briefly discussed with the idea of adding ads.txt inside the app stores to verify authorized sellers. However as the concept behind ads.txt was to create as simple a solution as possible, devising an in-app solution is still far more complicated to implement than dropping a text file onto a web server. Hopefully as the advantages continue to outweigh any disadvantage, the demand for an in-app solution will be enough to support its creation and implementation to ensure greater transparency across all inventory for all devices.

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