If you give a bot a cookie…

If you give a bot a cookie…

By: Reid Tatoris

The advertising world treats cookies like currency. Navigant Economics found that advertisers were willing to pay 3x more per impression for cookie-driven ads versus ads without cookies.  That premium spiked to 7x for 90-day-old cookies.  Bots typically generate 50% more impressions per device than humans do, which means they’re out on the internet picking up more cookies than humans.


Cookies, or bits of data generated by your web browser to be stored on your computer, provide everything a website needs to keep track of you from one request to the next.  Accepting a site’s request to set a cookie allows the site to store information about your browser and preferences, making each subsequent visit to that site a little bit smoother for the user.  The two kinds of cookies, first-party and third-party cookies, are functionally the same but have different owners.  First-party cookies belong to the site you’re visiting, while third- party cookies refer to cookies that a site allows third-party advertisers to generate to track users.  Targeting segments are made up of data from third-party cookies.


Because inventory in ad networks is partially valued based on the quantity of views that the inventory can expect to earn, there’s a financial incentive for digital ad fraud.  Bot networks make money from a variety of fraudulent activity such as:  supplying fake traffic, generating fake ad views, scraping/stealing content from publishers, just to name a few.  And while they’re doing this, bots also pick up cookies.  Some bots are sophisticated enough to mimic certain user segments (for example, Users Age 18-36, a targeting segment that tends to have disposable income).  In many cases, re-cookied bots are added to granular consumer segmentation lists, creating a cycle of baking bots into many ad-tech platform audience models.   If a bot happens to pick up a cookie that is part of a data segment, that bot will be targeted in the future with more ads, and more ways to generate additional revenue.


According to a study by the ANA, bots now consume 19% of retargeted ads. Bots continue to interact on webpages in ways that mimic human behavior and deceive advertisers into thinking they’re getting conversions on their ads.  Not only are their conversions inaccurate, but they may also incorrectly optimize their future media buys for bots instead of real humans.

The trouble is that advertisers are taking a double hit: the premium data segments they buy to retarget are often bloated with bot data.   On top of that, they may be paying for impressions generated by bots.



The upside is that there has been a recent focus on solutions that make a human vs bot determination on the user before all parts of the site load.  Using this type of technology to ensure that cookies are only being picked up by users that are verified as human could help this problem.

Going forward,  data segments will hopefully be routinely cleansed or paired against a verification segment to avoid the double expense of paying for premium (and faulty) targeting.

reidtatorisBy: Reid Tatoris, Are You A Human Co Founder/COO

You can learn more about Reid on his LinkedIn or Twitter

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