For an industry as brittle as publishing, advertising fraud can be fatal. According to Marketing Dive, an analyst, publishers lose $1.27 billion each year to ad fraudsters, whose activity rises yearly. Losses from fraud account for up to 10% of total spend.
That doesn’t mean security firms leaping to the aid of media professionals should scare clients into buying their products, says Maggie Louie, CEO of DEVCON, a Memphis-based startup dealing specifically with the damage done to publishers by ad fraud.
Publishers are already concerned about profits and future-proofing, amid a digital revolution that has destroyed newsrooms and freelance budgets across almost all mediums. DEVCON understands that. “There are a lot of people fear-mongering,” Louie tells Red Herring. “So we’re taking the opposite approach, trying to make them feel comfortable.”
Louie, who founded the company in 2016 with angel investment, now has $1.3m of seed money to spend on expanding DEVCON’s publishing-centric solution, which allows firms to stop bad advertising, and cut vital hours spent working on irrelevant ads.
Louie’s pedigree, and that of her team, is undeniable: DEVCON helped authorities secure the first-ever conviction for online ad theft and money laundering, resulting in a four-year sentence. DEVCON’s team comprises seasoned media executives with over 30 years in the business at firms like the Los Angeles Times, tronc, Yahoo, Disney Interactive and American Public Media. Its development team has worked with the IRS, Bank of America and Mitnick Security, among others.
CTO Josh Summitt is a longtime cybersecurity expert who has fixed issues for a range of Fortune 500 brands, while Kevin Mitnick, one of the world’s most famous hackers, has helped Louie and co perfect their solution for publishers.
“Kevin is literally the world’s most notorious hacker, and understands the hacker mindset,” says Louie. “So what makes us unique is our kind of super powers of knowing tech and this industry of fraud, and how it happens.”
That, and a dedication to an industry that has been extremely slow to react to ad fraud. Media firms are oftentimes highly compartmentalized, and “don’t really understand the scale of what this is doing in the industry. And so that lack of communication is what is creating durability and providing a platform.”
DEVCON’s solution, which is free for up to two years before going behind a paywall, is fully customizable and allows companies to block whomever, and whatever, they like. That means publishers can avoid doing what a lot of firms offer: simply counting bot traffic.
“If you’re looking for a criminal, and you know the getaway car, what they’re doing is like measuring how much gas is in the tank and how fast the car is going,” says Louie, a popular singer-songwriter when not in DEVCON’s hot-seat. “We get you the license plate number.”