While most digital ad standards grow gradually more adopted with time, the ads.cert market-wide implementation is lagging behind. Will the situation improve in 2021?

Among the major challenges in digital advertising, ad fraud remains perhaps the most urgent one, with the total cost estimated to reach $84 000 000 000 USD by 2022 in the mobile ad segment (per Juniper Research).

In the video advertising context, the volumes of ad fraud are also staggering, especially in the CTV ad niche, where the invalid traffic has grown by ~160% in 2019 – 2020.

Quite predictably, the global online ad industry is continuously fighting back, particularly through the implementation of new, stricter ad standards, aimed at ensuring stronger security and transparency across the supply chain.

In this respect, the introduction of (app)ads.txt and sellers.json has definitely become a huge step forward in the fight against inventory spoofing and unauthorized inventory sales, enabling to whitelist authorized Demand partners and authenticate resellers across the supply chain, accordingly.

Unfortunately, however, none of the mentioned initiatives is designed to authenticate and validate information, actually passed in bid requests between a seller and a buyer.  Well, this is where ads.cert should come along.

What is Ads.cert?

In brief, ads.cert refers to the IAB Tech Lab’s specification, which implies the cryptographic signing of bid requests in the programmatic supply chain.

From the technical point of view, it goes like this:

  • Publishers generate a pair of a public and a private key and host the public key in the ads.cert file in the root folder of their advertising domain, while using the private key to create their unique signatures for OpenRTB requests, sent across the supply chain. 
  • DSPs and ad exchanges further verify bid requests using the publisher’s public key / signature and filter unmatched requests, if any, hence ensuring better spam analysis and higher ad auction integrity.

Ads.cert Adoption: Current State & Future Perspectives

Even though ads.cert was initially introduced back in 2018, and in spite of its obvious benefits for the global programmatic ad ecosystem, the initiative hasn’t been widely adopted by the industry until today.

While this fact may seem a bit odd at first glance, there’s a clear reasoning behind.

The fact is, the implementation of ads.cert implies the adoption of OpenRTB 3.0 protocol, which is NOT backward compatible (e.g. is NOT compatible with OpenRTB 2.x versions).

In plain words, unless all participants in the supply chain adopt OpenRTB 3.0 more or less simultaneously, the smooth handling of bid requests would be quite an issue.

Can the situation improve in 2021? Well, yes and no.

On one hand, the truth is, most industry players more or less justify the current status quo, or at least aren’t really willing to risk their streamlined integration with Demand and Supply partners (and financial gains) to join the fight without a guaranteed win in a short perspective.

This is, actually, why we are not expecting the prompt industry-wide commitment to the OpenRTB 3.0 adoption, at least in 2021.

On the other hand, a possible solution would be to utilize the IAB’s open-source OpenRTB converter, which should help facilitate the communication between exchanges and DSPs irrespective of oRTB versions they’re working on.

Currently supporting conversion from OpenRTB 2.3, 2.4 & 2.5 to 3.0 and vice versa, the OpenRTB converter analyses objects / fields for ad requests & responses and maps them to the corresponding (or close) objects / fields in another specification. If the direct or close object mapping isn’t available (i.e. does NOT exist), the converter will use extension sub-objects instead.