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What Exactly is ID Spoofing?

Welcome to the latest installment of “Ad Tech’s Dirty Laundry,” where we expose the industry’s unsavory secrets like they’re yesterday’s gym socks. Today, we’re diving into the seedy underbelly of programmatic advertising with a tale juicier than a prime-time scandal: Colossus SSP and their alleged ID spoofing shenanigans.

The Lowdown: What’s ID Spoofing, Anyway?

For those not fluent in ad tech jargon, ID spoofing is like slipping a fake ID to get into the VIP section of a nightclub, but way geekier and with more zeros involved. Essentially, it’s the practice of swapping the user ID tied to an ad impression to make it look more appealing to advertisers. This lets the sell-side platform (SSP) jack up the CPM (cost per mille, or thousand impressions), lining their pockets while advertisers pay top dollar for fool’s gold.

In the world of digital advertising, your user ID is the golden ticket. It tells advertisers who you are, what you like, and what you might buy after watching that “10 Products That Will Blow Your Mind” video on YouTube. Spoofing these IDs is like selling a Louis Vuitton knockoff at the price of the real deal. And Colossus SSP, it seems, has been playing a slick game of bait-and-switch with these IDs.

The Accusation: Adalytics Drops the Bomb

Adalytics, our modern-day Woodward and Bernstein, blew the whistle on Colossus SSP with a bombshell report accusing them of ID spoofing. According to Adalytics, Colossus was caught red-handed engaging in practices like cookie stuffing and ID mis-matching. To translate: they were essentially putting lipstick on a pig and selling it as Miss Universe. Or that’s the claim.

ID spoofing primarily thrives in a third-party cookie-friendly environment, like the Chrome browser. It involves swapping out the user ID targeted by the demand-side platform (DSP) with another ID that’s either more valuable or has more enticing data for advertisers. The most brazen form of this practice involves fabricating a user ID out of thin air. But it can also mean finding another user ID associated with a different device the user owns or even someone else in the user’s household. Creepy? Absolutely. Illegal? Well, that’s where things get murky.

The Gray Area: Fraud or Just Good Business?

Here’s the kicker: while ID spoofing isn’t explicitly listed in the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) definition of Invalid Traffic Detection, it’s considered fraudulent if the SSP knowingly sends a bid request with a bogus user ID. Yet, opinions differ. Some argue it falls into a gray area, especially when the IDs come from other devices within the same household. It’s like the Wild West out there, and the sheriffs are still figuring out the rules.

No one can agree on who should play watchdog. Should it be the verification firms? The DSPs? Maybe we need a dedicated “ID Spoofing Police” with badges and everything. Until then, it’s a free-for-all.

The Cookie Sync Circus

To understand the mechanics, let’s talk about cookie syncing. This process ensures that the buyer (DSP) knows the value of the user they’re bidding on. It’s like a secret handshake between SSPs and DSPs, allowing them to recognize and sync user IDs. But this dance is rife with opportunities for missteps, leading to mismatches and, you guessed it, spoofing.

BidSwitch, the middleman in this ecosystem, syncs cookies between SSPs and DSPs. But it’s a convoluted process. Imagine trying to sync up dance moves with 20 different partners, each on their own schedule. It’s a recipe for chaos and, apparently, a fertile ground for Colossus’s alleged antics.

The Data Dilemma: Colossus in the Spotlight

Adalytics caught Colossus with their hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. In two separate instances, they found that the user IDs in the bid requests didn’t match the ones in the user’s browser. But before the digital pitchforks came out, Colossus was unceremoniously shut down by The Trade Desk and BidSwitch, leaving us with more questions than answers.

Augustine Fou, a renowned ad fraud researcher, suggests that cookie mismatches alone don’t prove fraud. According to Fou, mismatches are as common in ad tech as bad dates on Tinder. They happen due to the inherent imperfections of cookie syncing. So, should we give Colossus a break? Maybe. But the fact remains that they got caught with discrepancies that others didn’t.

The End of Third-Party Cookies: A Silver Lining?

The end of third-party cookies, slated for 2024, might put an end to this ID spoofing circus. But don’t pop the champagne just yet. The ad tech industry is like a hydra: cut off one shady practice, and two more grow in its place. Who knows what new shenanigans will emerge in a cookieless world?

Wrapping Up: The Takeaway

So, what’s the moral of this story? In the cutthroat world of ad tech, where billions are at stake, the lines between innovation and fraud can get pretty blurry. Colossus SSP might be the latest villain, but they’re certainly not the only player bending the rules. As the industry evolves, so too will the tactics of those looking to game the system. Stay tuned, keep your cookies in check, and remember: in ad tech, nothing is ever as it seems.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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