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Search Companies Team Up Against Click Fraud 84

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lawyers-make-life-more-like-frogger dept.
isabotage3 writes to tell us that the top three search companies, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, have teamed up to create an alliance to combat click fraud. The fact that these three bitter rivals can team up shows just how serious the industry has become about preserving the current online advertising boom that is currently underway. From the article: "Click fraud has attracted an increasing amount of attention amid class-action lawsuits and industry studies asserting advertisers have been collectively overcharged by more than $1 billion for bogus sales leads during the past four years. Google and Yahoo contend that those estimates are gross exaggerations generated by opportunistic lawyers and online advertising consultants hoping to cash in on the anxieties triggered by their calculations."
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Search Companies Team Up Against Click Fraud

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  • "True Intent" (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "In some cases, the true intent of a click can be identified only after examining deep psychological processes, subtle nuances of human behavior and other considerations in the mind of the clicking person," wrote Alexander Tuzhilin in a 47-page report submitted last month to an Arkansas state court.

    ...or you could simply check if the visitor clicked a few times (and purchased the item or not), or clicked a billion times.

    47 pages. Looks like someone is trying to justify his cultural studies degree.

    • looks like someone has actually written something usefull about it.
      Remember the usual thousands of pages of garbage company's often hand in to stall the courts?
  • by hawkeye_82 (845771) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:29PM (#15833284) Journal
    ....gross exaggerations generated by opportunistic lawyers and online advertising consultants hoping to cash in on the anxieties triggered by their calculations"

    I can't put my finger on it, but that sentence seems to have a lot of redundancy built into it.
    • "I can't put my finger on it, but that sentence seems to have a lot of redundancy built into it."

      Not only that, but there might possibly be some duplication in the meanings of the words. In the sentence, no less.
    • How can I mod a comment "+1 Redundant"?


      I must confess that I have been known to click on a banner ad simply because I really liked the site, but 1 billion dollars of clickfraud is a lot of people working to intentionally increase their own revenues substancially. It is nice to see the big three (combined with well over 90% of the market) takign this seriously.

  • by Zweideutig (900045) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:33PM (#15833316)
    Have users register before they can view ads.
    • Well, on Google I usually stay signed in with my Gmail account so that Google can record my search queries. Quite a useful thing, I use it to look up what I was doing or thinking some time ago.
      • Well, on Google I usually stay signed in with my Gmail account so that Google can record my search queries. Quite a useful thing, I use it to look up what I was doing or thinking some time ago.

        Me too, but I think the that OP was being sarcastic. I chuckled.

  • by JimDaGeek (983925) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:33PM (#15833317)
    ...says it all:
    The attorneys who filed the suit will share $30 million.
  • These companies (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Timesprout (579035)
    Can work together even though there's no love lost between them. Slashdot on the other hand has to persist with its juvenile logos.
    • Slashdot prints M$ marketing material practically on a daily basis. When microsoft.com does the same for OSS software then maybe you might have a point. M$'ofties really are such hypocrites sometimes.

      ---

      Vista: Billions of marketing words and no delivered product.

  • Click fraud? What's clicking? I can't recall the last time I saw a banner ad worth clicking on.
    • well since these contextual advertisers have only recently started using banners, and fosus mainly on text ads, your comment doesn't quite ad (LOL) up.
      • Text ads? I notice those even less than the banner ads. I had to double check Google after a search to make sure I had seen them before. I've gotten so good at tuning them out that I just think of them as part of the white space at the edges.
        • And that makes you special? It really doesn't matter. A lot of people (namely, the ones they're targeting) do notice them. And because of that, the services remain "free" while they continue to see a good return on their investments.

          Not just picking on you, but why do people always need to point that they don't click or see ads? You don't need to look at them but I don't see why its such a great thing that needs to be shared with the world.
          • I don't think I saw your message either.....
          • And that makes you special? It really doesn't matter. A lot of people (namely, the ones they're targeting) do notice them. And because of that, the services remain "free" while they continue to see a good return on their investments.


            I guess the quesiton is, are that many people really clicking on/noticing ads? Or is a good portion of it fraudulent?

            -matthew
            • The problem is the advertising done by the search engine companies promoting their advertising. The users of the product are finding that the returns from their advertising dollars are not in line with the expectations generated by the marketing of the search engine companies.

              Much frustration at the money spent without returns, as well as the unrealised sales that the search engines convinced them would result from those adds.

              The big problem is that search engines are selling advertising to all comers r

          • What about those of who use Adblock+?
  • Logging IP Addresses (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Ok, I don't know exactly how the advertisers track their click throughs, but wouldn't they notice if someone got 10, 100,1,000, etc... click throughs from one or a few IP addresses? It would take some really sophisticated worm/malware to get that many machines these days to do that kind of fraud.

    Yes? No? Someone who's in this business educate us, please.

    • It would take some really sophisticated worm/malware to get that many machines these days to do that kind of fraud.
      errr....

      IP Spoofing???

      • IP Spoofing???

        Theoretically possible, but is it practical with TCP connections? Maybe I'm not up on my security, but don't most modern OSs use difficult to predict TCP sequence numbers? And dont' clickthroughs often require more than one connection to complete? When you spoof an IP address, you are working blind. You can never see a response from the server you are talking to. Any HTTP redirects will be lost.

        Seems like it would be a whole lot easier to uses a botnet for click fraud.

        -matthew

    • by teflaime (738532)
      Google does measure this sort of thing, to the extent they can. I have a friend who runs a lot of Google ads on his site. He said their TOS says if anyone at his IP like clicks on the ads, they don't get paid, and if they click on the ads too often, he gets booted from the program.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      wouldn't they notice if someone got 10, 100,1,000, etc... click throughs from one or a few IP addresses?

      Yes, 10,000 clicks from a single IP are easy to catch. The bad guys know that too. They also don't sent the clicks exectly one second apart either. They're not dumb.

      You ever hear of malware that installs itself on your computer and waits for remote instructions? One the the things they are used for is as click bots, so that X number of automated clicks come from Y different IP addresses (one of them yours
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No, for a few reasons, the most obvious being NAT. One external IP address for ??? users behind the firewall. If your site is one of the main financial services providers, you can probably expect large numbers of users to be coming from one organization like a bank.

      Lazy customers. My mom, not realizing its an ad that will charge amazon to get money, always clicks on the amazon banner when she searches for it on google (which is how she and many people find it... many people are too lazy to be bothered w/ th
  • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:37PM (#15833352)
    If you read the article, one of the things they say is how hard it is to determine the "intent" of the person clicking the ad. Are they serious shoppers, casual browsers, or even one of those teenagers who sign up for those click-for-profit type schemes. Well duh! Of course you can never know this. To me it's all quite silly. The point of online advertising is the same as the point of any other advertising medium - drive up sales (or, notoriety). And that information is readily available to the client companies. They know what their ad budget is and they know what their sales are (and polls tell them what their notioriety is). In the end they should have enough data to make their own determinations as to how valuable online ads are to them, and then they should pay accordingly. I know this is all easier said than done when the prefered pricing model seems to be click-based. But, at some point the numbers should tell the story, and if it means the online ads aren't worth what they are costing, then spend they should reallocate their ad dollars elsewhere. Eventually the pricing will align with value.
    • The report on the click-fraud investigation around Google [blogspot.com] (PDF, I'm afraid) has a lot of good information regarding this. It goes into the different payment models possible for online advertising, and makes a good case for the usefulness of each of them — as it points out, Pay-Per-Click is a good model for many advertisers provided it works, which is why there's an onus on cracking down on fraud.

      If advertisers think that the ads working, they will pay the right price for them — if fraud is prev

    • If the computer says that the average age of your customers is 23.00006 years than it must be true and a way to more effectively target your intended market of 22 year olds must be devised.

      Promotions available to anyone who can drive this number down to 23.00005.

      KFG
    • If you are in the business of selling online ads (as Google and Co are in), then you obviously want to increase the value of this kind of advertising by reducing click fraud.
    • Bruce Schneier has pointed out [schneier.com] that the underlying problem with click fraud is the way that the incentives are set up. If it is in the fraudster's interest to try to spoof the system, this is going to happen, and both fraudsters and would-be fraud-busters are going to spend time and effort on an "arms race" that has no winners. He recommends that Google and co.

      Change the rules of the game so that click fraud doesn't matter. That's how to solve a security problem.

      and suggests that Google's experiments w

    • by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:48PM (#15833999) Homepage
      If you read the article, one of the things they say is how hard it is to determine the "intent" of the person clicking the ad. Are they serious shoppers, casual browsers, or even one of those teenagers who sign up for those click-for-profit type schemes. Well duh!

      I often find myself clicking on many links for sites I dislike, knowing that each click is costing them money; just 'cause I feel like it :-/

      Also, opening a page in a Firefox tab, and closing the tab (without viewing it), is also a pretty nice way to run up costs for some sites. And if thousands of people do this per day...

      It's a silly business model these advertisers have.
    • You are exactly right. For the search engine site, Google could avoid a lot of misunderstanding by auctions off "days" rather than "clicks". Advertisers could bid for a word or word combination, for a particular day or week. The advertiser could easily discover if his ad was running, and what the sales results were. Revenue for Google would be the same - the ads wouldn't be worth any more or less to be priced this way, but Google wouldn't be rewarding click fraud, and wouldn't have to worry about suppressin
  • Bogus leads? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalkerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:38PM (#15833358) Journal
    advertisers have been collectively overcharged by more than $1 billion for bogus sales leads during the past four years.

    Then maybe those advertisers should think before they agree to be advertised on those get a free ipod sites. I mean seriously who doesn't cancel those agreements as soon as you sign up for them. I wouldn't pay these people a nickle if I was an advertiser, yet they make enough to cover the cost of free ipods or free laptops even.
  • And again, Ms will team up with google. The next step, I guess, will be that they'll get mad at each other again [slashdot.org]
  • The best way to stop click fraud is to stop using the system.
  • by fragmentate (908035) * <jdspilled@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @01:50PM (#15833450) Journal

    The primary concern about "click-fraud" is that you're being charged for clicks that were meant to intentionally drive your costs up. In essence this means wasting money, since you can't really track who meant to click and who didn't. This adds up to tens of thousands of dollars very quickly.

    The irony is that many of the companies that are uncomfortable with this medium for advertising is that they're perfectly willing to spend millions on TV and print advertising where they can't even reliably track anything. And worse, they have to hope the people that actually give a damn about their product or service are even in the market. I don't know about you, but I get my drink, go to the bathroom, and pop popcorn during commercials. With online advertising -- especially on search engines -- people only see your commercials [ads] because they were looking for something related. (I could go on a tangent here about how a clothing company will bid on keywords related to automobiles... maybe later.)

    Having worked in the online advertising/marketing industry (tech sector) for over 2 years now, this problem is not easily solved. The fraudsters know all about proxies, onion routing, and a host of other tricks to drive up the costs of competitors. Then, there are those that simply think it's clever to generate traffic (on IRC we called them spammers, floodbots, etc.).

    We provide our clients with click-fraud reporting using our algorithms. They're pretty accurate. But, this accuracy is based on a model, which is based on 50% hard data, and 50% conjecture. What's missing with our reporting is that Google, Yahoo!, and MSN don't give it any weight, and frankly dismiss it.

    I'm hopeful that this "coming together" will help client confidence so they can move away from [nearly] untrackable advertising on TV, print, and radio. It all starts with "the big 3" -- if they're willing to assist, it's much better than a 3rd party trying to decipher 3rd party results and then have to prove it to "the big 3."

    • by Comboman (895500)
      The irony is that many of the companies that are uncomfortable with this medium for advertising is that they're perfectly willing to spend millions on TV and print advertising where they can't even reliably track anything.

      I'm reminded of a quote: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don't know which half." ~ Viscount Leverhulme, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963)

    • by The Famous Brett Wat (12688) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:30PM (#15833812) Homepage Journal

      The irony is that many of the companies that are uncomfortable with this medium for advertising is that they're perfectly willing to spend millions on TV and print advertising where they can't even reliably track anything.

      Woah there! You had it right in the first paragraph when you said that the problem was "being charged for clicks that were meant to intentionally drive your costs up". Now all of a sudden you're on a completely different subject: the question of whether you can measure viewer response to the ad. If you sign up for a traditional TV, print, or radio ad, you can only estimate your response rate based on market research, but you know exactly what your outgoing costs are. With pay-per-click web ads, the situation is pretty much the other way around: you get good data about user activity, but your costs can only be estimated, and are subject to escalation by fraud.

      But pay-per-click isn't the only revenue model out there. Pay-per-impression is considerably less prone to fraud (it can't be easily targeted if ads are randomised), and pay-per-day returns costs to the known-in-advance state. Both of these still allow tracking of user activity.

      As a small-time ad-space provider, I'd far rather be hosting this kind of fraud-proof ad. That way the ad-broker can't arbitrarily accuse me of click fraud and suspend my account. It hasn't happened to me, personally, but I'm acutely aware that it could happen at any time without notice, and this precludes me from even considering it as a reliable source of income.

      • Pay-per-action [aka pay-per-conversion] is an even better model. You only pay if people perform the action that justifies the cost.

        "Actions" and "Conversions" are subjective. For some companies this is a sale. For others, it's a reservation. Yet others view signing up for a mailing list, or forum as a conversion.

        You can read up on Google Checkout [google.com] here. However, in order for this to work you have to have a third party handling your conversions [transactions]... in this case, Google.

        • This is highly abusable by the advertiser. At one end of this abuse we have advertisers that might not properly track or report the conversions. At the other end are products that such tracking really cannot be done for in the first place.

          A lot of products are really the kind of thing that impression advertising is the only way to do it. Examples include grocery products you buy in a store.

          What if Pepsi or Coca-Cola were to purchase advertising through Adsense and put up ads that just kept the name rec

      • If you dont like the advertising rate . . . .

        Dont buy advertising with (insert company name here)

      • If a big car company buys an ad during the prime-time news, they pay for a "value" based on some calculations and some voodoo (little Nielsen's Ratings dolls are boku powerful!). A competitor buys an ad in the spot right after. They pay for a certain voodoo value based on "getting the last word." The 1st ad's value is diminished .... but they already paid.

        Unmeasurable clicks (some are fraud based on a witty competitor) are voodoo, too. A "click" measurer contains no more real value than a Nielsen rating
    • "but I get my drink, go to the bathroom, and pop popcorn during commercials."

      There are too many commercials for this to be a viable long-term strategy. And anyway, didn't you mean to say, "but I get my Pepsi, go to the bathroom (wiping with Charmin of course), and pop Orville Redenbacher's popcorn during commercials.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Came across this company pushing their "Clickrisk" solution to combat fraud of this type while reading the 360is Security Newsletter. here. Its under the Successful Operations section. Extract: Click fraud is expected to reach $1.1B for 2005. By 2008, this is estimated to grow to $1.6B, an increase of over 45%. (Source: Clickrisk).

  • Not So Difficult (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bloobamator (939353)
    Click fraud detection is not so difficult. You don't have to examine "...deep psychological processes, subtle nuances of human behavior and other considerations in the mind of the clicking person..." That's just a bunch of academic navel-gazing.

    All you have to do is focus on the publishers who are profiting from click fraud. If a no-name site is getting a disproportionate amount of click traffic, then you know something is wrong. And it's only the no-name sites that commit click fraud. Large, well es

  • by The Famous Brett Wat (12688) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:07PM (#15833586) Homepage Journal

    It's impressive that these rivals have banded together to address click-fraud, but don't forget that Google has other tricks up its corporate sleeves. As seen here a little while back, they are also looking into "cost per action" ads [betanews.com], which would eliminate the fraud unless the action itself could be performed in a fraudulent manner. (Bruce Schneier mentioned it in a commentary [schneier.com] about click fraud.)

  • ...but someone please explain why these marketing genuises are complaining about the tribulations of their "pay per click" commission structure?

    That just sounds like a moronic compensation paradigm to me. Here's a novel idea: how about you implement a "pay per transaction" model? Instead of paying chump change for each (probably) meaningless click, offer nothing for them but provide a more sustantial payout for clicks that actually result in a purchase! Yes, I'm aware there are technological issues ar
  • ...they always have their client's best interest at heart. For example from TFA:

    "Tuzhilin was hired to do the study as part of just-approved class-action settlement requiring Google to offer advertisers up to $60 million in refunds. That amount translates into less than 40 cents for every $100 that advertisers have paid Google since 2001. The attorneys who filed the suit will share $30 million."

    So if I spent a whopping $100,000 of my annual advertising budget on Google over the last 6 years, I could expect
  • by rainman_bc (735332) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:34PM (#15833856)
    What are these ads that people are clicking on? I haven't seen one for a very long time now...

    Thank you adblock and adblock filterset.g and me blocking that google script. Life is much better without that crap anyway.

    ^_^
  • by fkx (453233) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:54PM (#15834056) Homepage Journal
    Vigorously defending their irrational actions and behavior while loudly denegrating and disparaging their critics over evidence any sane, straight, clean and sober observer would immediately recognize.

    Owning up to the issue honestly would be the better approach than demonstrating your desparation by denying it.

    Is profit an addictve substance for corporations?
    If so, maybe it sould be outlawed. Like herion is.
  • Oh boo fucking hoo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Durandal64 (658649) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:14PM (#15834230)
    You mean the people who are constantly looking for ways to ruin my browsing experience with a never-ending parade of Flash ads, pop-up windows and gigantic CSS floating DIVs might be getting overcharged? Excuse me for not feeling sorry for them. Now where's that World's Smallest Violin?
  • I haven't seen this posted yet, but recently Google started displaying the number of clicks that they consider fraudulent. You can read more about it in the Adwords blog here https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?a nswer=44008 [google.com]
  • by Presence1 (524732) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @04:37PM (#15834817) Homepage
    After decades building small growth companies in the software industry, I'm now building another start-up in a different high-technology area. Search based advertising would be IDEAL for our market, and our start-up company size. But the threat of click-fraud keeps us out. Here's why.

    Google's CEO Eric Schmidt said about click fraud is that "there is a perfect economic solution which is to let it happen.". The idea is that the price of advertising would eventually settle to an equilibirum, discounting the average rate of click fraud. E.g., if half the clicks were fraudlent, advertisers would be willing to pay half the rate, etc.

    This is a good argument, but it is fatally flawed, because there is not a steady average rate of click fraud. It might be true if the only kind of click fraud was scammers trying to drive up their own ad display revenue. This type of fraud could even out to some average, which is easily accounted for by an average discount.

    However, the bigger threat is targeted click fraud -- a competitor trying to drive up my costs, or a click-farmer just happening to post ad pages focusing on my market.

    These targeted attacks could easily kill us overnight, by turning 10K budget into a $100K bill, or by depleting a capped budget and taking my ads 'off the air'. Either way, it is a complete waste. Worse, this waste is completely unpredictable, I might enjoy low rates and good business, or I might be shot; it is really like Russian Roulette.

    This tunable targeted ad model has awsome potential for small startup companies, where the broad image/impression advertising campaigns of major brands make no sense for them. Sadly, the click-fraud seriously poisons the well. You can see it in Google's ad revenues starting to flatten last quarter [google.com].

    If Google actually solves the click-fraud problem, I'll not only use AdSense, I'll also buy their stock. I expect that many others will also start using it once it can be trusted, and their revenue will grow prodigiously. Until that, I'm using other methods.

    • The other issue is that cost-per-click is a poor means to advertise a new product. Search advertising assumes that the consumer is shopping for something. And that they are shopping for something familiar.

      What's keeping out most internet advertisers is a better advertising model.
  • I don't support click fraud doers, but I think there are two things you should keep in mind:
    1) Nobody is oblidged to advertise on the Internet, let alone AdWords.
    2) You as an Internet user have not signed anything that prevents you from clicking on ads as long and as hard as you want to.

    That said, don't you think that Google has already calculated in the price of the ads the click-fraud money. I mean, if you know that 1% of the money are going to be stolen this way, you just calculate it in the price. If th
  • It seems that worrying about Click Fraud is a waste of time. Why don't the advertisers work fraud into their bids? Google could state that they only garuntee that 75% of all clicks are legit. Also, perhaps Google could switch to a more objective pricing scheme? For example, instead of paying on a per-click model, why not auction blocks of time?
  • sadly I suspect that, once the numbers are done on ROI, the $ for click through model will wither. Probably end up being eyeballs and actions (I pay you to run my banner and/or I pay you when someone actually spends the money)

    Too bad as clicks make lowend blogging a minimum wage job - almost.

    mod redundant - I just felt like posting ...
  • Next time you see an ad for something you are interested in, instead of clicking on the ad to visit the site, just open a new window/tab and type the URL in. Now no one gets paid. Is that fraud, too? If intentional, it sure is.

    This is also abusable by advertisers themselves. If they are trying to drive up web site visits, they make sure the site URL is in the ad so people will remember it and visit later (knowing that most people won't drop everything they are doing to visit right now). If they sell p

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