Understanding the Proxies That Can Undermine Location Data

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What Proxies Are and How They Distort Data

Today’s digital world has become a mass online universe that constantly challenges marketers to find new and innovative ways to reach what is often a faceless and geographically dispersed audience.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that location provides valuable insight into what is typically an anonymous audience online. A plethora of contextual information can be gleaned from knowing internet users’ locations in order to make them…well…more human. 

However, a growing amount of internet traffic is going alien, cyborg, and zombie. Call it what you want. Whether intentional or unintentional, it’s not human, but it can significantly throw off targeted marketing campaigns. 

The expanded availability of low cost IP redirect options that run through geographically distributed hosting facilities has led to a proliferation of proxies. These include anonymizers, VPNs, and Tor services — to name a few.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a proxy as: an authority or power to act for another. On the internet, a proxy is an IP address that shields the real location of the actual end user.

Marketers not interested in technology for technology’s sake may be wondering why this is important.

A person’s location can provide insight about who they are based on demographic and other contextual assumptions regarding lifestyle, sometimes referred to as geo-textual data or proximity intelligence. Developing context around an online user’s current location helps marketers deliver more relevant, timely messages. Similarly, understanding the type of proxy with which a visitor is connecting to the internet has become increasingly important to help online advertisers further optimize their campaigns and improve their overall performance.

Proxy Types that Often Warrant Red Flags

A number of different proxies exist in today’s online world―for both legitimate and nefarious reasons. Detecting proxy traffic is an IP-based phenomenon. The presence and type of a proxy dictate how certain IP traffic is handled.

For marketers, the ability to deploy technology that identifies and bypasses online users who may be masking their locations and digital traits yields improvement in the form of targeted campaigns and fewer wasted impressions.

The following types of proxies often warrant a red flag:

Anonymous: The actual IP address of the end user is not available. This often indicates the use of services that change location to circumvent digital rights management. Versions include Tor points (free software for enabling anonymous communications), temporary proxies, and other masking services.

Transparent: The actual IP address of the end user is available via HTTP headers, though the value is not necessarily reliable (i.e., it can be spoofed).

Hosting: Addresses belong to a hosting facility, and end users are not typically located in a hosting facility.

Corporate: Generally considered harmless, their location can occasionally be a concern. Multiple users proxied through a central location or locations, and thus sharing a single network-apparent IP address, are not reliable.

Public: Multiple users are proxied from a location allowing public internet access (e.g., libraries).

Education: End users come from an educational institution with the .edu extension.

Blackberry: All Blackberry users go through a centralized proxy location and thus cannot be accurately geotargeted.

“?”: A return that indicates there is no evidence to support proxy activity for a given IP address (used to initially parse proxy vs. non-proxy online traffic).   

An Increasing Demand for Proxy Data

During the last year, I’ve seen a 25—50% increase in requests for proxy data. The demand is specifically coming from ad networks, analytics companies, video content providers, fraud-prevention solutions, and software providers with geographic rights restrictions.

In particular, the inclusion of proxy information in a marketer’s data arsenal improves efficiency and the performance of content and messaging by: 1) Avoiding wasted impressions; 2) Fighting click fraud; and 3) Enhancing attribution and analytics.

For example, relying on a proxy’s IP address location often leads to incorrect targeting and wasted impressions because the user is hiding her true location. In the case of hosted or pay-per-click (PPC) ads, companies can utilize proxy data to combat malicious clicking that unnecessarily adds charges to advertisers. Proxy information can also be incorporated into analytics to report on human versus non-human (i.e., invalid) ad traffic.

AppsFlyer, the global leader in mobile attribution and marketing analytics, is proactively using proxy data to combat the real and growing problem of mobile ad fraud. It utilizes proxy data to give mobile marketers the clarity and confidence they need to optimize their campaigns and improve their overall performance by identifying responses from non-humans as well as uncovering uncertainties around their advertising traffic.

Delve Deeper for Comprehensive Data 

Not all proxy data providers are created equal. Marketers should do their due diligence and delve deeper into how vendors proactively acquire, update, and support this type of data. Reliable proxy data providers should offer the following:

  • Ability to isolate a variety of proxies
  • 24/7 data gathering and identification processes
  • Data updates provided on at least a daily basis
  • Dedicated support teams focused solely on proxy data
  • Ability to explain the methodology and how it applies to online advertising and content
  • The number of customers using proxy data

Knowing more about where internet users are accurately coming from as well as how they connect will help marketers improve the monetization of their online advertising and content. 

As Fox Mulder of the “X-Files” would say: The truth is out there.

Rob Friedman is co-founder and executive vice president at Digital Element, the leading provider of IP Intelligence and geolocation solutions. Since 1999, Rob has been at the forefront of the IP Intelligence movement in the digital marketing space, helping to make it the “must-have” feature it is today. He has worked closely with advertising and marketing businesses across the spectrum to ensure that they are getting the most out of their targeting solutions. Contact him at [email protected]