This Epic 3-D Diagram Explains How Online Ad Fraud Actually Works

The team at web traffic analytics site released a cool diagram that sheds light on the mostly invisible (and illegal) world of hidden display ad exchanges.
Ad fraud occurs when high-traffic, low-quality sites (like porn or song lyric sites) insert legitimate websites into their browsers that visitors to the site don’t even see. This boosts impressions (number of times legit ads are served) without humans ever even seeing the ads.
Adweek’s Mike Shields points out that these internet crooks are probably stealing about $400 million a year from the online ad business. Advertisers think their ads are appearing on legit web sites.
This 3-D graphic shows what users get when they look at a fraudulent, ad-stuffed web site. Scroll down and we’ll explain what you’re looking at:

The graphic illustrates the way ad impressions are hidden. It’s called “nesting” (ads are basically stacked on top of each other, making the majority invisible). Out of the 72 ad impressions served in this browser image, a whopping 60 are incorrectly registered as viewable.
Here’s what a legitimate web site serving a legit ad looks like: 

But on fraudulent web sites we see that of 12 ad slots, only one is viewable. Because they are hidden in a section of the browser that is technically within the user’s window, nine ad slots are registered as viewable and therefore count as impressions, even if the user can’t see them:

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