With the arrival of the first rounds of various Covid-19 vaccines globally, the world is collectively holding out hope that a light is finally visible at the end of the Coronavirus tunnel. However, as we’ve seen during a very different holiday season, new cases (and unfortunately, new spikes in death rates) are still leaving many countries in lockdowns of various severity, prolonging remote working. This leaves many of us spending more time online than ever before, browsing websites and engaging with brands via digital ads, which can lead them exposed to security threats and user experience issues that can impact their trust in the sites they encounter issues on.
As 2021 kicks off, recent events in Washington DC show us that the November 3rd US Election did nothing to quell the war between fake news and reality, which also has a massive impact in the digital world. 2021 is going to be a very interesting year, one of hope for many, and full of challenges for all. The digital advertising industry is no different in that regard, so as we did last year, we’re taking a look at some key predictions that can impact user experience in the coming year.
Social Engineering attacks will continue to rise
Over the course of the pandemic, and through into 2021, there has been a significant increase in the number of users from older, non-digital native, generations spending more and more time online, from shopping to remote working. From late March of last year we started to observe a significant rise in social engineering attacks, such as Phishing or Scareware, delivered by digital ads. Designed to trick unsuspecting users either through deceptive, non-existent special offers, or outright scaremongering, these types of attacks prey on user naivety and fear, and have continued to have a detrimental impact on end users as we’ve moved into 2021.
“Fake news” and deep fake technology will become more widespread
The concept of fake news wasn’t new to 2020, but it was talked about. A lot. From public figures proclaiming real news to be “fake” and their fantastical version of events to be “real” to the manipulation of real images in misleading ads to drive a narrative or fool users into purchasing dodgy products, digital fakery, and the concept of a “post truth” online world grew dramatically throughout the last year, and shows no signs of stopping in 2021.
When looking at this type of manipulation, we’re going beyond what we usually consider to be digital ad security, and into the territory of protecting the user experience against false narratives that can be very convincing. For advertisers and publishers, their brand equity can be in danger if they aren’t monitoring the visual elements of the content they are serving in order to ensure that users are interacting with legitimate, verified ads rather than dangerous, misleading ads designed to fool them for profit.
Scammers leveraging real brands to fool users
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re browsing your favourite website, and you stumble across what appears to be a link to an article on a well known national news source about a famous face from your country? You’re sufficiently intrigued by the clickbait title, and upon clicking you’re taken to an article about said famous person and how they have tripled their networth using a particular cryptocurrency app, or a similar digital financial platform. The “article” bears the logo of the well known news company, and even contains “quotes” from the famous face, further legitimising what is in fact a misleading ad designed to trick you into engaging with a scam.
These types of scam ads intentionally use a mix of device fingerprinting to target users with localised versions of the scam in order to provide a cover of legitimacy. If you’re in the UK, the scam might use the iconography of the BBC to seem legit, and the celebrity will be someone almost all British citizens will instantly recognise. The scammers will have local variations on the misleading ad ready for users in different countries, but they will always follow a similar pattern.
What can be done to detect and eliminate them? Again these can be tricky as there isn’t an obvious security threat included in the delivery of the scam, so the best way to control these form harming users is to either detect the fingerprinting in action, or monitor the visual content to detect company logos, or even celebrity faces, when monitoring the ads to maintain compliance. By doing so, platforms and publishers can identify these scams quickly, and eliminate them effectively.
The final thought
The surge of online activity across all demographics means delivering safe, high quality user experiences, free of both obvious and subtle dangers, will be a major key to success for ad platforms and digital publishers in 2021. The competition for users fleeting attention spans will be fierce, and those dedicated to ensuring users safety, and able to offer them high quality experiences will be best positioned to come out on top in the digital economy we’re all living in.