“We’re not exposed to MFA.” “All our vendors block it, and we mostly buy through private marketplaces.” “Our verification service filters out 99.9% of it.”

Whatever will get you through the night.

Practically every ad tech provider has issued a press release in recent months boasting about eliminating made-for-advertising sites, yet supply sources remain oversaturated with junk inventory, according to a new Adalytics research released on Monday.

The research has very unpleasant moments for the largest SSPs and media organizations; nevertheless, these findings are more of an indictment of the programmatic advertising ecosystem as a whole, rather than any single company.

READ MORE: Ad Tech Company PubMatic Said It Made A Deal With Dish Media That Lets Sling TV Tap Into Pubmatic’s Programmatic Demand Via Private Marketplace Deals

Adalytics’ founder and CEO, Krzysztof Franaszek, told AdExchanger that the industry is at a standstill.

The buy side does not reward supply-side platforms for eliminating MFA from their marketplaces. Instead, their reach decreases, while CPMs increase. Meanwhile, DSPs are not driven to quit serving on MFA because their customers desire broader reach and lower rates.

Adalytics is a firm that provides online ad transparency. The majority of its clients are marketers.

READ MORE: Google Tells Ad Tech To Take Its Medicine And Try The Privacy Sandbox

It made a name for itself by issuing a succession of headline-grabbing reports over the last year on sensitive issues of significant concern to ad buyers, such as brand safety, transparency, and wasted ad expenditure.

Google, which was the target of three scathing studies in less than a year, has accused Adalytics of instilling fear in its products in order to enhance its own business.

But it’s difficult to refute this proof. Adalytics analyzed the newly released MFA report using exclusively open-source data sources. No log-level data were evaluated. Instead, Adalytics created phony online identities and tracked the advertising that were shown to them on a website.

READ MORE: A Look Ahead At Ad Tech As The New Year Gets Started For CTV, Data, And Programmatic

That’s because Adalytics previously highlighted, for example, how the Google Search Partners Network is vulnerable to improper placements, which was more of a hypothetical issue. The paper revealed how to use on-site searches to produce adverts for large well-known businesses on US-sanctioned Iranian and fetishistic pornography sites. But it’s not like most people go to an Italian-language bestiality website and search for “Gillette” or “Google Pixel 7.”

However, the latest MFA study does not focus on self-prompted advertisements; these are ads presented to genuine people who browse low-quality websites.

The paper focuses on the purchasing tools provided by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, three significant MFA suppliers. And, curiously, everyone has its own distinct method of overconsuming MFA.

Adalytics discovered that Microsoft Ads and Xandr served MFA ads to the vast majority of individual advertisers – over 9,000 separate firms. That’s because tens of thousands of small and local businesses, including barbershops, dentistry clinics, and other Main Street mom-and-pop stores, are on the Microsoft Audience Network and so served by MSN and Bing.

According to the research, the Google DV360 is the largest buyer of MFA, and this is not simply because it is the largest DSP in general. DV360 had a fourfold higher relative prevalence of MFA supply in the Adalytics sample than Amazon, the second highest offender.

According to Franaszek, Amazon’s retail media network is “plastering” product listing advertising across MFA inventory.

READ MORE: Ad Tech Businesses Are Attempting To Facilitate CTV Out-Of-Home

Retail media is ideal for MFA. The primary reason is that retail media networks (RMNs), including Amazon’s network, are entirely focused on the user. RMNs track IDs across the web, even low-quality MFA sites, and recommend product listing advertising depending on what a merchant knows the user has already looked for or put to an online cart.

These placements have little actual value, but MFA supply is valid human traffic, which Amazon can leverage because RMNs sell based on post-view conversions. If Amazon eventually converts on the sale of, say, Procter & Gamble brand Pampers, it’s easy to forget about what came before.

(Adalytics discovered the Amazon DSP serving Pampers to MFA, by the way.)

According to one Fortune 100 CPG marketer who received the Adalytics research before publication and spoke with AdExchanger on the side, the number of Amazon ads displayed on MFA is particularly concerning. Those product listings do not result in purchases, but by exposing an individual to those placements on an MFA site, Amazon Ads can claim credit for a conversion that would otherwise be organic.

But let’s take a quick break from blasting the offenders to provide some praise.

Kargo receives a gold star as the only well-known third-party programmatic SSP that did not surface in Adalytics’ MFA audits.

The Ozone Project and TrustX also deserve recognition. Both are SSPs that sell media exclusively to specific news publishers, therefore they are well protected against MFA.

The DSP standouts are Basis (previously Centro) and The Trade Desk.

Unlike many of the other companies targeted by Adalytics, TTD has legally filtered out MFA since before it became a public problem. An open topic in the industry is why TTD has been so quiet about its success when it might have boasted about its dedication.

One notion that Franaszek has heard is that TTD does not want to be perceived as criticizing the open web. If advertisers have an unfavorable perception of the programmatic web, it is not good for The Trade Desk.

There’s also what you may call the “Please proceed, Governor” argument. As in, when your opponent makes a mistake, don’t correct or interrupt them; instead, let them bumble.

The Adalytics report references a recent AdExchanger newsletter (forgive the meta-reference) that claims TTD has gained a significant advantage over other DSPs in bakeoffs by discretely not wasting spend on MFA.

Why is this happening?

So, if certain ad tech businesses are preventing MFA, why can’t everyone else?

Well, they can. They simply don’t.

Franaszek describes MFA publishers as fairly intelligent.

“I almost respect them,” he replied. “They clearly have data scientists and knowledgeable developers.”

Even so, it’s relatively simple to eliminate MFA supply.

When an SSP is called out for selling MFA inventory, especially in private marketplaces where it is almost as common as open exchange buying, there is nothing prohibiting the platform from instantly turning off MFA, Franaszek added.

The capacity exists. The issue – or one of them, at least – is that SSPs and DSPs frequently perceive MFA as a one-time checkbox, rather than something that requires continuous upkeep.

Magnite announced in July that it was using Jounce Media, Similarweb, and other tools to reduce MFA supply. Many other SSPs and ad exchanges, such as Sharethrough and PubMatic, issued similar statements.

Adalytics discovered that these three, as well as OpenX, Nexxen, Index Exchange, TripleLift, and others, continue to serve advertising on MFA sites.

What’s going on?

MFA publishers generally utilize zombie domains, which means that their URLs change regularly. Many SSPs have vowed to utilize Jounce Media’s MFA tracker, which is updated daily, but it’s conceivable they’re merely using a static version of the list.

The main issue, however, is the human factor.

The term “programmatic” is commonly used interchangeably with “automation.” However, in actuality, various stakeholders have their own, often conflicting, incentive structures.

If, for example, an advertiser incentivizes its agency or DSP to reach as many valid human eyeballs as possible at the lowest possible CPMs, they are essentially asking for MFA.

Advertisers sometimes tolerate bad ad placements because they believe it is “cheap reach,” according to Franazek.

While the CPM is minimal, MFA sites frequently reload ads, perhaps hundreds of times if a user leaves a tab open. The brand frequently pays more, and the sole end consequence is that a walled garden ad platform can claim attribution credit for an upcoming sale.

Because MFA is not fraudulent. actual individuals are seeing actual commercials; it’s just ineffective for the brand. Furthermore, the brand is frequently unaware that this inventory is present.

“If a brand wants to buy MFA, that is entirely their right,” Franaszek stated. “But advertisers who believe they’re no longer buying MFA are clearly heavily exposed.”