The state of ads.txt

While there’s debate over how to pronounce ads.txt, there’s no arguing that among ad tech folk it’s more popular than L.O.L. Dolls are with children.

Launched by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Tech Lab in May, ads.txt is a text file that publishers host on their web servers that lists all the companies authorised to sell their inventory. Because ads.txt allows buyers to check the validity of the sellers they purchase from, it should help buyers avoid spoofed domains and arbitraged inventory.

The widespread adoption of ads.txt over the past few months now puts pressure on vendors that don’t have access to unique inventory. This pressure is reflected by resellers that ask publishers to list them on their ads.txt files, even when the publishers don’t have a relationship with the vendors.

Most publishers and advertisers consider ads.txt a positive step toward cleaning up the murky ad-supply chain. But despite the breathless conference panels that ads.txt inspires, it has its limits as a fraud-fighting tool.

“The fact that the industry has had to create a standard around counterfeit inventory means that as an ecosystem we’ve lost our way,” said Nick Jordan, co-founder of data platform Narrative. “Basically, it is a technology solution to a much more insidious and systemic problem and akin to fixing a compound fracture with stitches.”

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