Mobile advertising is at an all-time high and shows no signs of slowing down.
Rapid internet penetration and mobile usage have prompted advertisers to allocate a larger budget to mobile advertising. But like other things online, it comes with many challenges, mainly mobile ad fraud in the form of click injection.
Click injection is a digital crime that defrauds advertisers, publishers, and supply partners by exploiting their app technology.
What is click injection?
Click injection is a sophisticated attribution fraud in which scammers manipulate last-click attribution to steal credit from the actual source of an install.
It’s a big threat to the app industry and costly for affected businesses. Click injection is estimated to affect over a quarter of all mobile advertising campaigns worldwide. Followed by SDK spoofing, click injection cases increased to 27% globally in 2018.
Fraudsters make money from click injection, while marketers lose valuable campaign budgets. It hurts not only campaign ROI but also a brand's credibility.
How does click injection work?
Click injection is like installing a hidden spy camera in marketing campaigns. It’s one of the most advanced click spamming activities on Android phones.
Scammers rely on click spamming to get credit for the last click in a cost-per-install (CPI) campaign. They download an app on Android smartphones that monitors activity and alerts scammers when users download a new app. They then send users fake clicks just before the installation process is complete.
As standard practice, ad publishers are billed a predefined rate each time their application is installed. However, click injection falsely credits the installer payout to the scammers. Scammers use AI or a network of bad bots to click multiple ads multiple times and generate more clicks.
Here’s a stepwise breakdown of the click injection process:
- The users unknowingly download fake apps offering promising features like wallpapers and photo editing options.
- When a new app is downloaded, the previously installed malicious app contains code that warns it through Android "installation broadcasts."
- Fake clicks are injected into the app promotion when the download is about to complete.
- The user clicks on these options to complete the download process, and the advertisers credit the installs to the fraudsters, paying them a percentage of the earnings.
Who is impacted by click injection? How?
Click injection impacts every stakeholder in the mobile advertising ecosystem. However, the consequences may vary. Click injection degrades the end-user experience and negatively affects the reputation of networks, publishers, and advertisers, in addition to financial losses.
1. Network and publishers
Click injection steals the credit of an installation operated by a real network or publisher. This further impacts their revenue as they don’t receive app install revenue; it instead goes to the fraudsters.
The advertiser is the party worst affected by this threat. The installations, designed to bring impressive results from a campaign, end up sending the credit to scammers.
Click-injection fraud unfolds in multiple ways, impacting an advertiser’s ROI and brand reputation. First, they pay the network or publisher based on last-click attribution, even if the installs were organic. This black box further impacts an advertiser's decision-making as they act based on skewed data, affecting their overall performance and wasting ad spending on rogue installs.
Moreover, companies run CPI campaigns simultaneously on multiple ad networks. Multiple campaigns on the line require ad protection on different platforms. Higher CPI markets like the US are at an even greater risk of click-injection fraud as the financial gains are higher.
Here are some adverse effects of click injection for advertisers:
- Draining advertising budget: The app install is genuine to the advertiser and eligible for a payout at the CPI to the affiliate network or ad publisher. Click injection depletes the advertising budget, and the company fails to reach genuine users.
- Stolen real conversions: Click injection weakens an advertiser's budget and steals actual conversions generated from the campaigns. For example, when users click on an injected ad, the fraudsters steal the last click attribution. Advertisers’ organic conversion opportunities are lost, and their investments in such campaigns prove ineffective.
- Manipulated analytics: Holistically, the brand loses money, misses out on revenue due to lost conversions, and doesn’t even get accurate campaign data. For example, the advertiser sees that the campaign generates a lot of traffic and clicks, and the natural follow-up action is to increase the campaign's ROI. However, data inaccuracies would lead to advertisers spending more money on a campaign that doesn’t generate enough results. This will also likely result in advertisers ignoring other genuine but seemingly less effective campaigns that may result in genuine brand conversions.
How to protect your brand from click injection fraud
Click injection is a harmful and widespread mobile ad fraud; it’s imperative that you protect your brand from it.
- Analyze your data. Marketers can analyze average click install time (CTIT) to identify click injection fraud. If the installs are genuine, your performance data would be at par with the average CTIT. However, the fraudulent installs might reflect an increase in the number of installs during the period of CTIT. While not a foolproof method, some scam apps can now manipulate the data pattern by creating a time range only after which the app would open.
- Choose a reliable marketing partner. Entrust your campaigns to the right marketing partner and thoroughly analyze their previous work and expertise. One of the red flags is someone claiming to offer a much higher number of app installs at a price below the industry average. Click injection manipulations most likely support such a claim. While it's true that different industry verticals and target regions result in different prices, genuine installations performed through clean and ethical processes will always be more expensive than the offerings from rogue vendors.
- Use a fraud detection solution. Being pragmatic and honest helps you exercise caution when choosing marketing partners and analyzing campaign data. However, both steps only increase ad safety and don’t completely eliminate the threats. A holistic ad traffic validation solution is the best option to protect yourself from click injection. It helps advertisers run campaigns safely without being exposed to app fraud. It can also integrate advanced AI throughout the customer journey, ensuring advertisers get real engagement and installs.
Validate your traffic data; beware of ad fraud
Sophisticated click-injection frauds elude even experienced digital marketers. The AI-powered bots and intelligent apps make separating a fake installation from a genuine download difficult.
This technique won’t spare any advertising campaign, whether a big-budget brand or a smaller one. The most effective and recommended option is to provide advanced ad traffic validation to eliminate and protect the ad campaigns throughout the marketing/advertising funnel. This ensures brands don’t lose advertising budgets, potential revenue, and even credibility from day one.
Don't let click fraud drain your resources. Know how to protect your digital advertising. Learn about the signs of click fraud and the best ways to prevent it.