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A Data-Driven Metric of Incentive Compatibility

Sébastien Lahaie
Song Zuo
Proceedings of The Web Conference (2020), pp. 1796-1806


An incentive-compatible auction incentivizes buyers to truthfully reveal their private valuations. However, many ad auction mechanisms deployed in practice are not incentive-compatible, such as first-price auctions (for display advertising) and the generalized second-price auction (for search advertising). We introduce a new metric to quantify incentive compatibility in both static and dynamic environments. Our metric is data-driven and can be computed directly through black-box auction simulations without relying on reference mechanisms or complicated optimizations. We provide interpretable characterizations of our metric and prove that it is monotone in auction parameters for several mechanisms used in practice, such as soft floors and dynamic reserve prices. We empirically evaluate our metric on ad auction data from a major ad exchange and a major search engine to demonstrate its broad applicability in practice.