If you’ve ever wondered how ads for trusted brands end up on some of the sketchiest sites on the web, you’re not alone. For years, online advertising technology – or at least the way it is applied – has lagged behind the standards of most reputable companies, with regards to the places that their paid adverts appear.

A new initiative from TAG, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, aims to change that, by empowering the advertising industry to take control of the online spaces where their ads appear and encouraging a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the worst offenders.

It’s called the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy and the tools it introduces are a lot snappier than the name itself!


TAG - Trustworthy Accountability Group

Protect Brand Integrity, Prevent Ad Revenue for Piracy

The mission of TAG in its widest sense is to eradicate fraud, malware and piracy in the digital advertising supply chain, as well as increasing transparency of an issue and industry whose complexity has brought about the strange situation of globally recognized brands unintentionally supporting globally infamous sites.

Linda Woolley TAG

Linda Woolley, President and CEO of TAG

In describing the group’s first initiative,  the organization’s President Linda Woolley explains how it’s really only the good guys who get penalized, as the situation currently stands.

In addition to the creators who have their content shared without permission – and the resulting loss in sales revenue – everyone gets paid in this supply chain except the original advertisers, who pick up the tab for ads running on sites that damage their brand rather than enhance recognition as intended.

“This initiative will help marketers identify sites that present an unacceptable risk of misappropriating copyrighted content and selling counterfeit goods, and it will help them remove those sites from their advertising distribution chain.” –Linda Woolley, President and CEO of TAG

TAG’s new program intends to achieve this in two ways:

1) Creating standards: Currently entry is too easy, with no vetting of who can involve themselves with an advertising network. Woolley explains this in terms of a stock exchance, where those who transact business are registered, monitored and audited, meaning only legitimate players can remain in the game over the long term.

2) Improve the tools: Give partners the power to identify + remove risky sites, by creating the tools they need to assess that risk and voluntarily decide on their level of exposure.

If standards lie on the aspirational side of this initiative, it’s the tools that truly sharpen the blade for brands to cut unwanted ties with fraudulent sites. Advertisers will finally be able to gauge the level of risk associated with their ad network choices by working with those TAG certifies with DAAP status, or Digital Advertising Assurance Providers. These entities will be validated by third-party partners Ernst & Young and Stroz Friedberg, both of whom bring brand assurance with strong reputations of their own.

A DAAP will be validated against the five following core criteria:

  1. Identifying “Ad Risk Entities” (AREs)
  2. Preventing Advertisements on Undesired Ad Risk Entities
  3. Detecting, Preventing or Disrupting Fraudulent or Deceptive Transactions
  4. Monitoring and Assessing the Compliance of Ad Placements
  5. Eliminating Payments to Undesired Ad Risk Entities

Possibly the most important element here is flagging Ad Risk Entities, which will determine the dangerous online sites and spaces that brands will be advised to avoid. Once identified, the remaining points focus on monitoring these entities and, ultimately cutting off a key revenue stream in the form of advertising dollars.


Defining “Ad Risk Entities”

Although Ad Risk Entities will be identified by validators chosen by TAG, it’s important to note that the decision to use them or steer well clear will remain with the advertiser. Although the negatives of such ad channels clearly outweight the positives, if indeed there are any, those who drafted the program are keen to point out that this is a self-regulating initiative.

Advertisers not only choose whether or not to opt-in to do business with a DAAP, they also set their acceptable level of risk based on the respective issues raised by properties flagged as AREs.

By weeding out the worst of those offenders and notifying them of their ARE status, the creators aim to provide those with scruples a road to recovery (and, ideally, reinstated ad dollars), while at the same time creating an underclass of entities who show no desire for improvement. The latter category can then be lumped into the highest level of risk and, so the industry and creators alike hope, avoided entirely by advertisers.

While much of this initiative is rooted in the deep and complex world of ad tech, the intended outcome could not be clearer: identify fraudulent sites and empower advertisers to shut off their ad income.

The program requires significant self-policing and wider buy-in from advertisers, but with the backing of four main ad industry bodies and a high-profile list of media and consumer protection organizations, TAG’s first initiative makes a strong statement that ill-gotten advertising dollars will soon be nothing but nostalgia for piracy sites and those who run them.