Ads.Txt For Apps Is Finally (Nearly) Ready For Primetime

After a protracted, year-long alpha period, the IAB Tech Lab has released the specs in beta for the app version of its Ads.txt initiative to reduce counterfeit ad inventory.

The App-ads.txt hold-up was caused by app stores dragging their heels on providing support for the Tech Lab’s preferred solution of using metadata tags – essentially the developer’s App Store ID – within app store pages to create links back to an app developer’s website URL.

In June, the Tech Lab issued guidance on how to implement Ads.txt within the app environment to nudge the process along.

Apple’s App Store and Google Play have yet to actually implement the official meta tags registered by the IAB, but the Tech Lab is pushing ahead anyway. Publishers can use a workaround to post their Ads.txt file, link it to a domain and expose it to buyers by piggybacking on a metadata field within the app stores.

“Only the owner of the app can make that link appear,” said Neal Richter, CTO at Rakuten Marketing and co-chair of the IAB Tech Lab’s OpenRTB Committee. “Then you know it’s been vouched for by the app store and that it’s going from the app store to a domain that provides a safe place to get authorized data from an Ads.txt file.”

Since the Ads.txt file itself is still web-based, the Tech Lab and others can also use existing crawlers to validate app inventory, which will help extend the reach of App-ads.txt more quickly.

Adoption among app publishers, though, could prove challenging.

There’s a clear monetary incentive for app publishers to embrace App-ads.txt with the same enthusiasm as their web counterparts, which took to Ads.txt like ducks to clean water. When publishers post an Ads.txt file they usually see an uptick in revenue, because bad actors can no longer easily spoof their inventory.

But the app world “is a little different,” Richter said, and it could take more effort to get app publishers on board with the App-ads.txt initiative. Most of the big game apps monetize more through paid subscriptions than they do through advertising.

“If you look at data from the major DSPs, though, there are way too many accounts selling the major game apps and it just doesn’t make sense – they’re not authorized,” Richter said. “We’ll have to make the effort to show this to them and do outreach to get good coverage, because these aren’t the traditional set of publishers in the ad tech community.”

App-ads.txt also extends to over-the-top apps, where ad fraud is already starting to ramp up. In mid-November, DoubleVerify uncovered a botnet targeting connected TV devices that would spoof publisher URLs to fool ad servers into thinking the impressions were coming from a real connected TV device.

“An open standard like this is an important step toward making sure programmatic trading will be effective in OTT and other app-oriented TV systems,” Richter said. “As we know, TV budgets have extra digits on the left side of the decimal point in CPMs terms, so the fraud will be incredibly lucrative.”

The App-ads.txt beta specs will be available for comment through February 4, 2019.

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