Friday, February 21, 2014

The TTC, Wi-Fi and Impression Fraud

For those that don't live in Toronto, here's a quick primer:  We have a transit system known as The TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) and for the longest time, us subway users have been screaming that we want data when underground.  So, the TTC met us half-way and started installing Wi-Fi in the stations only.  

Right, as you are aware by now, we have a new Wi-Fi system called TConnect being rolled out on the subway system.  It's plenty quick, and I do use it to refresh my twitter feed before jumping on the subway train, or to tell the house I'm coming home from work.

But, I've found a problem.

In advertising, you have metrics that show you how many people you're reaching.  These metrics are usually based on numbers in the multiples of 1000 - and for reasons I still don't understand, we use the Latin version (mille) instead of English (thousand) so the "Cost Per Thousand" eyeballs, or listeners, is usually represented as "CPM" (Cost Per Mille).  Thus, a CPM of $10 means it's costing you a cent per person reached.

Understanding this is crucial, because advertising is based on a simple premise.  An advertiser pays a certain amount of money based on this CPM and the advertising system reaches that many people.  This is why a Super Bowl advert is way more than a daytime weekday ad spot - you're reaching more people.

In the digital advertising world, you have a slightly altered version of this.  Whereas TV and Radio can't say "OK, you've reached the 10,000 people you wanted to reach, now we're cutting you off", the digital systems can record an exact count of the number of times an advert has been played.  This is known as the "Impression Count".  It's supposed to be more accurate than a TV or Radio system, so it's trusted more.

Now imagine you are purchasing advertising space on the new TTC TConnect system.  Imagine you are paying a cent per impression (so a CPM of $10)... You would expect that when you're presented with a $500 bill for reaching an impression count of 50,000 that 50,000 people have actually seen your advert, right?

Not on TConnect.  

They've left the ability to scrub through adverts (FFwd through them) enabled.  So, if you are required to watch a 30 second video to get your free connection because an advertiser is paying for it, you just immediately FFwd to the last 2 seconds so it records reaching the end of playing the advert - then you're in.  Meanwhile, the advertiser still gets billed for showing an advert that hasn't actually been watched.

That is basically Impression Fraud.