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ARTICLE

It Takes a Village to Take Down Ad Fraud Schemes

November 30, 2018 — by Daniel Sepulveda    

The global internet and the digital economy have created immense opportunity for advertisers and marketers to leverage economies of scale to help fund and fuel the development of digital services on the web and around the world.  We marry buyers of ad space to sellers, with billions of dollars transacted in the process every day.

But along with immense opportunity have come new threats.  In the process of building a global platform for innovation and wealth creation, we have constructed an economic target for criminal enterprises to infiltrate, and they have taken advantage of it.  This week, we saw American law enforcement, in cooperation with the private sector and law enforcement abroad, take the first significant step to signaling that the jig is up.

After two years of investigation, the Department of Justice announced its first significant takedown of two global criminal ad fraud schemes.  Those schemes used servers and malware to violate the security of millions of computers and trick advertisers into buying access to non-existent consumers on fake websites.  In the process, they stole $36 million dollars from legitimate businesses.

Multiple individuals were charged and taken into custody abroad.  Domains and servers were seized.  And those schemes have been shut down.  This is more than good news. It signals the increased maturation of the global digital economy both as a tool for crime and as a focus for law enforcement in its efforts to deter abuse of access to a global, open internet.

As societies and jurisdictions around the world grapple with a borderless internet, accessible to the law-abiding and criminal alike, there are important lessons to take away from this case.

First, a communal interest in eliminating fraud allows for industry cooperation.  MediaMath was just one of a group of about 30 advertising technology companies that worked with the DoJ to help them understand how the programmatic advertising system works and where and how to capture illegal activity.  Ad fraud threatens advertiser trust in the digital economy, in programmatic advertising and in consumer faith in the legitimacy of the system as a whole.  It is in all of our interests to cooperate to end it, because none of us alone can do it.  And none of us want to be part of financing criminal enterprises.

Second, we learned that law enforcement needs private-sector expertise and information to enforce the law.  The expertise of the DoJ and the FBI’s cybersecurity teams is growing exponentially.  But as the operators of the private networks and systems over which fraud is executed, the industry has insight and access to information that law enforcement does not.

And third, we learned that law enforcement has to be able to cooperate across borders to stop crime on a borderless internet.  The internet is global, and cooperation must be global to work. The list of cooperating law enforcement agencies and entities involved in this takedown ranged from Malaysia to the United Kingdom.

We take the global internet for granted.  We shouldn’t.  The only way it will continue to grow and thrive is if we can all trust in its security and governance.  Our industry can and should support funding the development of skills and capacity-building related to cyber security for law enforcement at home and abroad.  We welcome continued cooperation with law enforcement at home and thank them for their service.

Daniel Sepulveda

Daniel A. Sepulveda is the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy for MediaMath, a global advertising and marketing technology company. He leads MediaMath’s Purpose Driven Advertising Initiative which includes client solutions and industry advocacy to encourage investement in high quality content on the internet including news, efforts to combat misinformation and disinformation, and tools for ensuring spend is going into multicultural publishers and audiences. He also represents MediaMath on public policy issues in public forums, in industry associations, and in dialogues with consumer organizations and civil society working on technology and the digital economy. He also works with teams across the company on special projects including political advertising, media supply chain issues, and diversity and inclusion. Sepulveda served in the Obama Administration at the State Department as Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy from March 2013 – January 2017. Prior to joining the State Department, Sepulveda served as a Senior Advisor to Senator John Kerry from 2009 – 2013 working on technology, telecommunications, trade, and economics. From 2004-2008 Sepulveda was a senior legislative aide to then-Senator Barack Obama on the same issues and also advised his presidential campaign. Before joining Senator Obama's office, Sepulveda worked for Senator Barbara Boxer, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Additional prior work experience includes service during the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor and at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Mr. Sepulveda received a Master of Public Affairs from the Lindon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in Public Policy and International Affairs and holds Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History from Emory University.