Wednesday Wake-Up Call: An Android ad-fraud scandal, and the ANA takes on 'the end of advertising'

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The entrance to the Android pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past February.
The entrance to the Android pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past February. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. You can get an audio version of this briefing on your Alexa device. Search for "Ad Age" under "Skills" in the Alexa app.

What people are talking about today: A major BuzzFeed News investigation has revealed the existence of what it calls "a sophisticated ad-fraud scheme involving more than 125 Android apps and websites, some of which were targeted at kids." Basically, various unrelated apps were acquired by "a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria and elsewhere." Through a sort of centralized command, the report says, the network would then "capture the behavior of the app's human users and program a vast network of bots to mimic it."

BuzzFeed cites "a person involved in the scheme" who "estimates it has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from brands whose ads were shown to bots instead of actual humans."

Google, the developer of the Android operating system, told BuzzFeed that "it quickly removes any apps that violate Play store policies and that last year it took down more than 700,000 apps that were in violation"—a huge number that hints at the endless game of Whac-A-Mole involved in battling problematic apps.

Big spenders: "Facebook is giving more details about who is spending the most money on political ads on its platform, and the leader this election cycle is... Facebook," Ad Age's Garett Sloane reports. The social network says that it's spent $12 million across its site and Instagram, mostly for get-out-the-vote drives and PSAs that detail how Facebook is attempting "to clean up political messaging" on its platform. As for specific candidates, Facebook's data shows that Beto O'Rourke, who is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Ted Cruz, spent $5.3 million since May to buy 6,000 ads, "the highest amount spent by any candidate, so far," Sloane notes.

Golf, tennis and r-i-s-k: One of the sessions kicking off the annual Association of National Advertisers conference in Orlando, Florida, this afternoon is titled "The end of advertising as we know it: Now what?" If existential questions are too daunting for the expected 3,000-plus attendees, there are also pre-kickoff golf and tennis tournaments, and an A&E Networks-sponsored dinner featuring a performance (provided by Westwood One/Cumulus Media) by the band Train.

And then bright and early Thursday morning, Progressive CMO Jeff Charney will take the main stage to talk about "The Most Feared Four-Letter Word in Marketing" (spoiler: it's risk). Stay tuned to AdAge.com throughout the conference; Ad Age's Brian Braiker, EJ Schultz, Jack Neff, Adrianne Pasquarelli, Alfred Maskeroni and Max Sternlicht are on the ground in Orlando to bring you full coverage. Previously: "What to expect at this year's ANA annual conference." (And for more about risk, check out "The risky business of fear" from the current issue of Ad Age.)

Good news and bad news for Verizon: "Verizon Communications posted its sixth straight quarter of subscriber growth," per Bloomberg News. That's (obviously) the good news. Now the bad news: "The New York-based company said it probably won't meet a 2020 goal of $10 billion in revenue from its Oath division, an online media and advertising business built out of its Yahoo and AOL acquisitions." See also: The Associated Press reports that what remains of Yahoo has agreed to a federal court settlement in a two-year-old lawsuit regarding Yahoo accounts that were compromised by hackers in 2013-14. The restitution: $50 million in damages and two years of free credit-monitoring for 200 million people. Verizon is on the hook for half of the settlement cost, and Altaba, a holding company for Yahoo's investments from its time as a standalone company, has to pay the other half.

Just briefly:
Star power: "Steve Carell is returning to television," per The Hollywood Reporter. "'The Office' alum has booked the male lead in Apple's untitled morning show drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon." Or as the AV Club's headline neatly sums it up: "Steve Carell is coming back to TV as part of Apple's plot to lure you into its new streaming platform."

The coming blitz: "Trump goes 'all-in' to protect GOP majority in final midterm stretch, planning ad and rally blitz," Fox News reports. The president's favorite cable channel says the campaign will include "a $6 million TV and digital ad buy set to launch next Monday and last through Election Day." See also: "Snapchat Helps Register Over 400,000 Voters," per The New York Times.

You saw this coming: "MoviePass's owner is looking to break up with the embattled subscription business, which has drained its coffers and obliterated its stock price," Bloomberg News reports. Helios & Matheson Analytics hopes to spin it off as a publicly held company.

Find out what's Next: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital; Bozoma Saint John, CMO at Endeavor; Drew Bradstock, senior VP of product at Index Exchange; Sharmeen Browarek, senior director of viewer engagement at Twitch; Jess Carbino, sociologist at Bumble; and Jason DeLand, founding partner and joint global CEO at Anomaly. Those are just some of the industry leaders and innovators taking the stage at Ad Age Next, our annual conference examining the future of marketing and technology, on Nov. 13 and 14 in New York City. Time's running out to get your ticket. Learn more about the must-attend event here.

Creativity spotlight: Starbucks just opened "its first U.S. shop that incorporates American Sign Language everywhere, from taking orders to baristas' aprons," Ad Age's Jessica Wohl reports. It's at 6th and H streets in Washington, D.C., close to Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Wake-Up Call's Angela Doland is on vacation this week. Simon Dumenco is filling in for her.

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