Google Inc. has launched a new tool aimed at protecting advertisers from buying fake impressions – targeting a problem that has plagued the programmatic ad buying space.

The search giant announced today it would be rolling out a new feature in DoubleClick Bid Manager, automatically stopping advertisers from buying hidden ads. Coming out of the acquisition of spider.io, a London-based company that Google acquired in February, marketers will be able to automatically avoid hidden ads, which are basically ads that viewers never see.

Hidden ads can occur by accident. For example, an ad was meant to be shown, but a viewer missed it, perhaps because it didn’t load on a mobile device or for some other technical reason.

But here are also times when hidden ads occurred on purpose, because a questionable ad seller or publisher purposely buried those ads under other ads – and only the top ad was shown to a viewer. Publishers can style webpage content to deliberately conceal them, or they can serve ads into tiny iframes that viewers will never be able to see. Whatever the method, the outcome is the same – marketers have paid good money for these impressions, but aren’t getting any value.

Fraud has been a big problem in programmatic ad buying for some time, giving the space a bad name and a sketchier reputation than is warranted. It’s bad enough that the Interactive Advertising Bureau issued guidelines for ad sellers in September, calling on them to invest in technology that will help them catch fraud. There are also a number of vendors who are trying to help programmatic ad buyers and sellers avoid fraud, like Forensiq, a company based in New York.

Google itself has said it’s investing more in preventing fraud from slipping under the radar. The company has vowed to give marketers their money back if they’ve accidentally bought fake impressions. That might result in awkward conversations with publishers, and it costs Google money, but it helps preserve Google Ad Exchange’s reputation, and maintain its share of the programmatic ad buying ecosystem.

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