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Predictions Series 2022: AiThority Interview with Ian Moss, Member, UK Stop Ad Funded Crime (UKSAFC)

AiThority Interview with Ian Moss, Member, UK Stop Ad Funded Crime (UKSAFC)

Ian Moss, regulation, government affairs and policy specialist and a member of UK Stop Ad Funded Crime (UKSAFC) initiative, discusses the birth of a new body to enable the digital advertising industry to address and tackle online advertising fraud and advertising funded crime.

Ad fraud is nothing new, but what sort of figures are we talking about when it comes to the scale of the problem? 

It is huge – probably a lot bigger than people realise. The Association of National Advertisers in the US reported that global ad fraud would come in at $120bn this year. Closer to home, we believe that more than £1bn is being lost to fraudsters in the UK specifically. These are big numbers, and serious action is needed to address the problem.

And as well as the scale, it is the nature of the criminals involved that is also concerning. We’re talking about organized crime, state-sponsored gangs, foreign adversaries and extremist groups that benefit from sophisticated ad fraud. All this money is funding a range of malicious activities.

So why has the industry failed to address this?

Well, it is not because there’s a lack of will. Indeed, we have seen multiple attempts to tackle this issue. However, there has not been a unified approach. Instead, independent groups have been singularly looking to address the issue from their perspective, often coming from brands or agencies.

Typically, they were looking to address only one element of the problem, and while this engagement was positive, the complexities of an ever-evolving digital industry and daily business pressures make it very difficult to remain focused on the issue. Ultimately, any solution is doomed to fail unless there is collective action and a continuous, unrelenting focus on the challenge.

Is this the role the UKSAFC will play? 

Very much so.

We seek to galvanize all parts of the digital advertising value chain, from the brands, publishers and agencies to the technology vendors. Only by doing so can we ensure a coordinated and united approach. And with the UKSAFC focusing purely on this issue, we will be successful where other well-meaning attempts were not.

But, we are also going beyond just the industry by engaging with the government and all the relevant regulatory authorities, because this issue transcends the industry. Ad fraud and ad funded crime directly impacts society and helps underwrite a wealth of criminality. Tackling it requires political collaboration if we really want to break this cycle.

And what is required to break this cycle?

One thing is to understand where the money is going. Ruthlessly focusing on following the money is critical to combating it. And to achieve this, we’re taking a two-pronged approach.

In the first instance, we’re bringing together all the industry stakeholders, along with the government and enforcement agencies. As part of this coordination phase, we will be building our combined expertise across all parties.

Secondly, we will be working from the standpoint of the economic significance of our industry to the UK. Ad funded crime poses a real threat to confidence in online advertising. We cannot be complacent about the levels and consequences of that, and we need to work as an industry on solutions and have better coordination with law enforcement. We will build up the evidence around the sites and individuals instigating this fraud so the relevant authorities can bring cases against them. Our approach is all about ensuring action is taken.

I’ve been in and around the problems of online advertising fraud and its links with crime for many years from a policy and regulation perspective, as well as advising private companies on this issue. It has been going on for too long, but what’s reassuring is that we can see a real collective will on the part of the industry to crack it.

In the UKSAFC, the advertising industry now has a champion to fight its corner and make a difference. And not only this, but we also have the opportunity to develop a blueprint for other countries to adopt and help drive the global fight against online advertising fraud and advertising funded crime.

Thank you, Ian! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Ian is a policy, regulation and Government Affairs specialist, having spent a career in politics, the Civil Service and the commercial sector where he has worked extensively on competition and economic regulation, technology, creative industries policy, broadcasting and the regulation of online market

The UK Stop Ad Fraud Coalition (UKSAFC) is a group of advertising professionals, policymakers, technology providers, and agencies, committed to tackling ad fraud in the United Kingdom. Of the UK’s yearly advertising spend of £16.5bn in 2020, at least £1.3bn of it was lost through advertising fraud. The UKSAFC will champion the fight against ad-funded crime at a government and regulatory level to enact true change within the UK advertising industry.

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