Click Fraud

ArsTechnica has a story about new Google lawsuits. The company is getting sued by a porn purveyor for copyright infringement and is suing another company for “click fraud” — fraudulent clicks to Google’s Adsense advertising links. Having recently taken on Adsense links here at MaisonBisson, I couldn’t help but pay attention. The Ars story leads to one at C|Net that explains:

Click fraud is perpetrated in both automated and human ways. The most common method is the use of online robots, or “bots,” programmed to click on advertisers’ links that are displayed on Web sites or listed in search queries. A growing alternative employs low-cost workers who are hired in China, India and other countries to click on text links and other ads. A third form of fraud takes place when employees of companies click on rivals’ ads to deplete their marketing budgets and skew search results.

Google’s ads are pay-per-click, so each click has a specific cost. The ads are Google’s largest income source, and it’s hard to find a website that doesn’t have Adsense links somewhere. Google’s model depends on advertisers faith that pay-per-click works, and so it has fraud investigation teams to protect it. When fraud is found, Google refunds the money.

Most of the action so far has been against automated clickers — bots, but it’s only part of the problem:

Human operations can be more difficult to detect because a wide network of people can click on ads from different computers across many regions, without a steady pattern. According to a report in the India Times, residents are being hired to click paid links from home, with the hopes of making between $100 to $200 per month.

In other instances, the source of bogus clicks can be much closer to home.

Joe, the chief executive of an Internet marketing company, enjoys clicking on his rivals’ text ads on Google and Yahoo because his competitor must pay as much as $15 each time he does it. Eventually, such phantom clicks can add up and drain a rival’s budget.

“It’s an entertainment,” said the executive, who asked to keep his name and company anonymous. “Why do you run into a store without dropping a quarter in the meter? You know it’s wrong, but you do it.”