Why adtech fraud would make the worst heist movie ever

Adtech fraud is costing advertisers billions. Computer hacking, big corporations losing big money—should be a formula for an awesome heist movie, right? Not quite. Screenwriters, you might want to stick to cash, cars, and objets d'art. Here's why.

  • Getting the crew together? Forget it. All the parts of adfraud can be done independently and connected on the free market. There go a whole bunch of great scenes for introducing characters.

  • Split-second timing? Try split year. There are hundreds of ad networks out there, and they're vulnerable to different attacks at different times. If your movie's cyber-felons miss one opportunity, they could just connect to a different network later and still get paid. Where's the drama?

  • Hard-boiled detectives trying to catch the gang? More like over easy. The adtech industry committed $1.5 million in funding (and set up a 24-member committee!) to fight a $6-10 billion problem. Adfraud isn't taking candy from a baby, it's taking candy from a dude whose job is giving away candy. More fraud means more money for adtech intermediaries. How hard are they going to chase your characters, really?

  • Elite skills? The audience wants to see your larcenous (anti)heroes pull off a great feat of skill. Adfraud, not so much. There's even phone support for it now.

  • Seriously, a decent movie would have somebody guarding the safe. An owner who cares, preferably a badass who's going to come down hard on your protagonists if he catches them. Can't help you here. Somebody is stealing this guy's money, and he's all like, Come on, everybody, we need to work together as an industry on stealing less of my money.

  • Dramatic risk of getting caught? Not a chance of going to prison—the worst that happens is that some of your characters get their accounts banned, and they have to log in with their other ones. Your movie's production designer is going to have to work awful hard to make that Access denied screen look cool enough to keep the audience awake.

  • Will crime pay? A good heist movie gets the audience to like the criminal masterminds, and hope they get away with something. Adfraud? A lot of the time, It's not even illegal.

To sum it up, the money's there, but the drama isn't. Brands are losing billions to a broken advertising system. Third-party tracking causes data leakage, and data leakage results in massive fraud, malvertising, revenue loss for sites, and signal loss for brands. But the whole story is about as movie-worthy as, I don't know, brands losing billions of dollars worth of carpet to leaking toilets or something.

The good news is that we're going to fix a lot of the fraud problem, as we can get more of our web users to turn on tracking protection in their browsers. Maybe, if we're lucky, tracking protection will make fraud hard enough and unusual enough to be worth making a movie about.

Don Marti · #