Study Finds That Ads.txt Relationship Mismatches Can Lead Brands to Paying a Premium for Resold Inventory, Among Other Issues

CARMEL, Ind., Sept. 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — A new study released by ( takes a look at relationship and how it correlates between ads.txt and sellers.json. The study found that implementation issues around relationship type can lead to a host of unintended consequences.

  • Premiums that are paid by brands meant to go directly to the publisher would instead be redirected to intermediaries.
  • Environments can surface with the potential to yield higher arbitrage operations.
  • SPO (supply path optimization) efforts may be less than optimal.
  • Brands and the advertising systems they purchase through become susceptible to certain ad fraud schemes (domain spoofing).

Escalated conducted a study of over 100,000 domains looking specifically at the ads.txt relationship type and how it matched up against information contained in the advertising system’s sellers.json file. The resulting data uncovered a large number of entries declared as DIRECT where RESELLER was expected due to the seller type in sellers.json being listed as INTERMEDIARY. While the exact nature of intent or reasoning was unable to be determined for individual cases, four main scenarios were identified.

  1. General confusion surrounding the understanding and implementation of the standard.
  2. Malicious behavior designed to redirect a brand’s spend towards resellers when originally intended to go to the publishers directly.
  3. The publisher changes RESELLER lines to DIRECT believing it will increase revenues.
  4. To protect exclusive outsourcing deals from being competitively disadvantage.

Having DIRECT entries declared that do not exist can also lead to lucrative arbitrage opportunities. This in turn sets the stage for domain spoofing schemes. These activities become possible when brands trust that a DIRECT relationship is in fact direct.

“Ads.txt and sellers.json are integral parts of the programmatic ecosystem that have built trust and transparency, which is why it’s important to spotlight these issues,” said CEO Kyle Smith.

The solution is simply for brands, DSPs, and other buying entities that listen to DIRECT relationships coming from 2 or more seats per exchange for the same inventory unit to treat the relationships as RESELLER until the true path can be identified. has published additional information and analysis, including methods to reproduce the data. Download the whitepaper at


We are a programmatic ad fraud vendor designed for use within the entire ecosystem from the sell-side to the buy-side. Our range of tools are built for the real-time measurement and blocking of ad fraud to protect ad spend or ad revenue. We work with every client to find a solution within our customizable and flexible platform that addresses the need, delivers the result, and saves companies money while providing actionable insight.


Kyle Smith, CEO