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When Ads Go Wandering 69

conq writes "BusinessWeek explores yet another click fraud scam, this one utilizing Yahoo!'s ads." From the article: "Somewhere along the way, an ad can wander off this trail. This happens when one of Yahoo's partners decides to give its own partners a cut in return for traffic, Edelman says. According to the study, a Yahoo partner called Ditto.com served an Overture advertisement through another site, NBCSearch (no affiliation with General Electric's NBC), unaffiliated with Yahoo. That company, in turn, passed it along to one of its own partners. (NBCSearch didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.) When that happens, Yahoo can't track its ads. Sometimes, the ads show up in undesirable places, like a pop-up from a spyware program. The average user simply sees the pop-up, unaware of how many networks it traversed beforehand."
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When Ads Go Wandering

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  • Nice summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:43PM (#15080623)
    That is unquestionably the most incomprehensible article summary I've ever read. What?
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:59PM (#15080726) Homepage
      It's really very simple. It's just like I tell the kids: Don't click around with promiscuous advertisements, you never know what sort of viruses you might catch.
    • Re:Nice summary (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:10PM (#15080797)
      > That is unquestionably the most incomprehensible article summary I've ever read. What?

      Hey, it comes from a guy at BusinessWeek.

      His target audience probably doesn't even know these ad-serving networks exist... a list of corporate entities is probably as comprehensible as he can make it.

      > > The average user simply sees the pop-up, unaware of how many networks it traversed beforehand."

      Meanwhile, the average Slashdot user simply sees a grey box, red "X", broken link icon, or grey-and-white checkerboard, unaware of which link in the chain of tracking networks, ad servers, or regular expressions in his adblocking proxy prevented it from showing up.

      So if it's any consolation, I haven't a clue what the article means either, because it'd take me at least an hour to break my adblocking tech badly enough to figure it out!

      • Meanwhile, the average Slashdot user simply sees a grey box, red "X", broken link icon, or grey-and-white checkerboard, unaware of which link in the chain of tracking networks, ad servers, or regular expressions in his adblocking proxy prevented it from showing up.

        Very true. I'm barely aware that the Web still has ads. I hear that Slashdot has ads, but I've never seen one.

        • I hear that Slashdot has ads, but I've never seen one.

          You must be new here. 25% of the "articles" are press releases or blatent slashvertisements.

          • You must be new here. 25% of the "articles" are press releases or blatent slashvertisements.

            Sorry man, you missed this:

            by Animats (122034)

            Animats knocks you around on "must be new here" by about 440,000 users :) He just means that Firefox with good plugins neutralizes just about everything.

            ~Rebecca
        • Very true. I'm barely aware that the Web still has ads. I hear that Slashdot has ads, but I've never seen one.

          This might be a silly question, but what do you expect to happen when the sites you use can't make any money out of advertising anymore?

          Whilest I'm in favor of blocking "bad" adverts (popups, those designed to be extremely annoying, flash ads that suck all your CPU time and play music at you, etc) I think those who block _all_ ads must be either very short sighted or just plain stupid - don't we wan
    • That is unquestionably the most incomprehensible article summary I've ever read. What?

      Behind all advertising is the system of tracking advertising. You need to know how much to pay a website for displaying your ad, and to verify a website gets as much traffic as they claim.

      But what I would like to know is how the RSS feed scam worked. A year ago, someone found a way to get a top page listing on Yahoo by exploiting Yahoo's algorithm by using a RSS feed.

      There are so many different algorithms, that maybe

    • Here's the short and simplified one-liner version:

      A Yahoo partner served an advertisement (called Overture) through another site, NBCSearch, which is not affiliated with GE's NBC, which is not affiliated with Yahoo, which in turn passed it along to one of it's own partners, NBCSearch, who didn't respond for comments, because of which, Yahoo can't track it's ad.

      Mini-mini version:

      Yahoo can't track the ad, because NBCSearch declined to comment.

      Any questions?

      • Sorry but I think you got it wrong (were you trying to be wrong? sarcasm doesn't carry well over the net sometimes).

        Overture Services, Inc. is the former name of Yahoo! Search Marketing (obligatory wikipedia link here [url])

        Yahoo! makes ads available to partners to display in exchange for a cut of the fees. One particular partner (Ditto.com) passed it to its own partner (NBCSearch, no affiliation to NBC)

        NBCSearch in turn displayed the ad using 180solutions' spyware, which in some cases simulated a click-thr
        • > Yahoo! claims that it loses the ability to track its ads when they are passed on in this manner.

          Which they do. They can 'track it' in terms of, okay it was clicked on, or it was seen, but they can't in terms of knowing the breakdown of the audience and trusting the validity of the traffic.

          But still, this is standard wild west online advertising. I'm not shedding tears, but they do waste the money of their advertiser if they dont clamp down on sites that resell their ad supply.
    • Yahoo goes to serve an ad on a partner site, lets say site X. They know X, they have a business relationship with X. But X makes a deal with Y .. I'll give you some of my ads, X says to Y .. Yahoo is going to give me a million per day, and my website only does 750,000 views a day. Y doesn't do business with Yahoo, and Yahoo loses the ability to track the site the website ran on, because to them it looks like it was delivered to X. Now, X's traffic is worth a certain amount per million views, but because X f
      • and sometimes ads would go from the first party ad server through 4 or 5 networks until it was shown.

        I don't understand what's in it for any of the parties involved. I'm not familiar with the way Yahoo ads work, so I'll talk about Google AdSense here (which I use and so I'm familiar with it). Normally the way it works is:

        1. A website is a member of AdSense
        2. when you visit it you get shown a Google advert that is appropriate to the content of the page.
        3. When someone clicks on the ad then google gets paid
    • That is unquestionably the most incomprehensible article summary I've ever read. What?

      Really, all these people sum it up way too complicated... Yahoo! delivers ads to its partners, one of its partners decided to forward such an ad to one of their partners, and wham!, Yahoo lost track of where the advertisement's being displayed...

  • by jimmyhat3939 ( 931746 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:50PM (#15080674) Homepage
    I personally think there are many, many forms of click-fraud which remain pretty much undetectable to the search engines and ad networks.

    The only sure-fire way to detect click fraud in its various forms is to take a look at the click-to-transaction ratio for a given ad. Of course, the only way to really know if there's fraud is to have some way of having a control group. What that would do is let you say something akin to "If someone clicks this particular travel ad, there's an xyz% probability that person will make a purchase, and the average purchase will be $abc."

    I don't think there's any company out there doing this kind of controlled experimentation to determine true click-fraud rates, but I believe that's eventually what people will have to do.

    • http://www.snap.com/ [snap.com] is doing something different, Cost Per Acquisition. They let you set a specific action, once that action is completed you are charged. No need to worry about simple click fraud.
    • Actually, that sort of analysis is pretty easy to do with Google analytics.
      • Really? How do you create a control group? I'm imagining you might have to literally hire real people to use the net and watch them to see when/if they buy stuff.
  • As dumb as the summary is, there's a simple solution to this. Only pay for legit ads.
  • by thelem ( 218540 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:00PM (#15080734) Homepage
    Very unclear summary, from a very unclear article, but I think this is what happened:

    1. An Overture user takes out an advert with Yahoo!
    2. Yahoo! passes the ad to its partner Ditto
    3. Ditto passes the ad to its partner NBCSearch (nothing to do with the TV channel)
    4. NBCSearch passed it on to one of its partners.

    At that point the trail appears to run cold, but the suggestion is that the ads make their way into spyware and auto-click software.
    • the Quesiton is .. who is making money from it .. that will tell you who wanted it and who is doing it .

      and if they arn't making money jsut providing free adds.. then all i have to say is why the fucking hell . someone should find that coder and beat him with his own keyboard
      • Presumably one of these 'associates' is forcing a click on one of the original yahoo ads so they pay their aassociate, who pays their associate who pays their associate?

        Seems weird. OK lets assume yahoo are paying 1 dollar per click from one of their associates (I know this is WAY more, but I'm not going to work through figures with thousanths of pennies!). Their associates pay 50 cents to one of THEIR associates who pays 25 cents to another who (through spam) forces yahoo to pay for an extra million clic
        • Ummm... I don't follow you. 1. I buy the ad space for a flashing "CLICK HERE!" 2. Yahoo gets $1 per click 3. Yahoo "loans" the ad for $0.50 4. ect. 5. Billions of ads are found on millions of computers, where some people click on them. 6. ??? Everyone understand? 7. Profit! Yes some get auto-clicked, but, that is most likely not significant. Thats the best I can make out, and it looks like Yahoo made money, so QUIT COMPLANING!!!
          • ok so it is the affiliats that yahoo pays to host their overture suctomera adds that are reselling them

            i see the money trail now. but in the end yahoo makes money but advertizers now have ads in popups which any respectiable company doesn't want..

            only click fraud that i have experenced is yahoo randomly advertizing my company on key words that we didn't ask for..

    • If that is the trail of involvement, no wonder people have an inherent distrust and suspicion regarding advertisers.

      On occassion I've tried to contact companies that produce excellent ads. The response is always, "we don't do that, thanks for your interest".
    • by bedelman ( 42523 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:45PM (#15080998) Homepage
      I wrote the original article at issue: The Spyware - Click-Fraud Connection -- and Yahoo's Role Revisited [benedelman.org]. I tried to be as clear as possible -- complete with diagrams of what I observed.

      Your four points above give an almost-complete statement of what happened, in one of my click fraud examples. Revising your points a bit to finish the story:

      1. An Overture advertiser takes out an advert with Yahoo!
      2. Yahoo! passes the ad to its partner Ditto
      3. Ditto passes the ad to its partner NBCSearch (nothing to do with the TV channel)
      4. NBCSearch passed it on to 180solutions.

      This "passing on" was all in a way that told Yahoo, falsely, that a click had occurred. So the advertiser ultimately ended up paying for a click that never actually happened.

      What's the big deal?

      1. The advertiser got cheated. The advertiser paid for a click, but no click happened.

      2. The spyware vendor got paid. Spyware comes from big companies, with real expenses. They need money to pay their bills -- their programmers, their installation partners, etc. If they couldn't find revenue sources, they'd disappear.
    • Overture and Yahoo! are the same company.
    • PPC advertisers (i.e. SmartBargains)
      ->Yahoo Overture
      -->Ditto.com
      --->Nbcsearch
      ---->180solutions

      Smartbargains buys ads from Yahoo(Overture). Smartbargains expects customers to click on their ads and pay Yahoo for each click.
      Yahoo distributes their ads through Ditto because Ditto appears to be a legitimate publisher and Yahoo wants to increase their traffic.
      Ditto pays Nbcsearch. toolbar?
      Nbcsearch pays 180Solutions. toolbar?

      In this example I'm not sure if Nbcsearch has their own toolbar
  • First Post! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:04PM (#15080764)
    Really. It just wandered down here for some reason.
  • by kawika ( 87069 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:12PM (#15080807)
    This article seems to have been written around Ben Edelman's recent research [benedelman.org] about Yahoo ad fraud. Why not link to the original instead of BusinessWeek? Ben's pages don't have the popunder or other ads that BW offers, but most would consider that to be a blessing.
    • The BW article is entirely based on Ben's work - read the source.
    • isn't it entirely appropriate to have a lot of popunders and all the other. plus, what would make you search the internet (and view ads as well) if they gave you the information that was important instead of making you go, "hmmm, interesting, what else can i find about this. lemme just open a new window . . . "

      I think its quite what they intended to do.
  • Didn't Google have problems with people circumventing their policies a while back? I know that Google is very strict about their ads now.
  • by Josh teh Jenius ( 940261 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:22PM (#15080874) Homepage

    ...is that companies like Google and Yahoo! have refused to take it seriously.

    Many people, including myself, suggest that this is because these companies are earning big money off of those clicks, regardless of how they are obtained.

    As someone who was banned from Google's "magic money machine" without reason or cause, only to find a company unwilling to talk to you about it...it changes your opinion of things. That's all I can say.

    • Did you just suddenly get banned, or did you get notified first? Did they lock any funds in your account?

      And you're super-duper-100% sure that you didn't violate anything in the ToS, right? :)
      • Actually, I did violate the TOS. Here's what I did...

        I was new the whole AdSense thing, and working with a site using some really ugly (aka 4am) CSS code. For some reason, the ads were acting goofy, so I kept testing them myself. Naturally, I assumed a $100 billion corporation would have the common sense to ignore hits coming in from my IP, being that I was meanwhile logged in to Google in another tab.

        The next day I noticed I had "earned" like $0.50. I knew this was a mistake, as noone even knew where t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:41PM (#15080983)
    My company (a top 500 website) saw click fraud through Yahoo that ate up all of our profit starting last Friday. On monday, Yahoo identified the fraudulent clicks (somehow) and revised our referrals and cost to where I would expect them to be.

    Today, Yahoo, revised our referral and cost numbers for the entire year. It turns out that we may have paid for about sixty-thousand dollars in fraudulent clicks in the past year.

  • How is money made?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baseball_Fan ( 959550 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:51PM (#15081036)
    BUYER, BEWARE. It highlights what has become a growing worry for online advertisers: They may be overpaying for ads that show up on questionable sites and don't reach their intended audience.

    I don't fully understand all the money in advertising. I knew a guy who threw up a website about telcom. He wrote a few articles about new technologies (digital versus analog, j2me versus other tech, etc), and copied a few from other places. He then spammed every blogger to get links to his website. And this guy was making $1,000+ a month from Google from people selling cell phone service plans.

    On the flip side, when Google is used for searches, many of these "fake" pages come up in the listings. "Fake" webpages which are nothing more than keyword spamming with links to a commercial website.

    Meanwhile, people who want to add original content which is meaningful gets pushed out of the rankings because they are not SEO experts. It is like money ruined search results because there is competition, not for good quality, but for advertising money.

    How does Google respond? They sandbox all new domains for 6 months to 1 year. That screws new people, and protects the old. Why did Google do that? A local astronomy group purchased a domain, and they can't get listed on Google no matter what they try. Yahoo lists them, but Google won't.

    And why does Google use a pagerank for listings- the weight on how many links a new website has, and how high the pagerank of the incomming links are? It gives too much power to large older websites. It is like a star trek fan website will have a better search listing if they get a link from tv.com, than from 4 or 5 other star trek fan websites (even though the fan websites might generate more interested people).

    I would like to see people rewarded for content, not how many links they generate.

    Does anyone here make good money from the internet? Is spamming and SEO required? Can good content beat Google's pagerank algorithm?

    • by Antipas ( 105430 )
      Click-fraud, affiliate programs, referral programs, are commonly exploited a good example of a good martking plan gone wrong is Vonage's old referral marketing program. It generated more negative results for vonage than it did positive. Google was filled with vonage-Yadi-Yadi spam webpage's that used iframes to place referral cookies. The referral affiliate spam in Google is out of control. Anyone with time to read any of the half a dozen SEO forums can generate a page rank of 6. The key the spammers us
      • Anyone with time to read any of the half a dozen SEO forums can generate a page rank of 6.

        Most SEO forums I see are nothing but BS. It is like the guy who tells you he made millions in real estate- and now he wants to make you rich by selling you his program for $99.95. I've spent days at SEO forums reading and trying to figure out what's going on. There is some meaningful guessing, lots of wild speculation, and a large dose of BS.

        And once the algorithm is figured out, it is the exact opposite of what'

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Can good content beat Google's pagerank algorithm?

      If the content is good, people will link to that page, thus boosting the Pagerank. That's the whole point...
      • Can good content beat Google's pagerank algorithm?

        If the content is good, people will link to that page, thus boosting the Pagerank. That's the whole point...

        That is not true. I could have 100 websites linked to my website, and it would mean less than having 1 incomming link from a website with a PR of 9.

        I was looking at the incomming links to one sucessful DVD website. They had links from hidden places, that people could not see but Google could. For example, they had incomming links from real es

    • The original search engines used content. That broke down because SEOs would just stuff their pages full of keywords unrelated to the real content. Google worked because it was different.
    • Meanwhile, people who want to add original content which is meaningful gets pushed out of the rankings because they are not SEO experts. It is like money ruined search results because there is competition, not for good quality, but for advertising money.

      How does Google respond? They sandbox all new domains for 6 months to 1 year. That screws new people, and protects the old. Why did Google do that? A local astronomy group purchased a domain, and they can't get listed on Google no matter what they try. Yahoo
  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:11PM (#15081140) Homepage Journal
    My company has both Yahoo and Google ads and the Google ads the past few days have seemed to go a little nuts. Ad groups that previously were getting a couple hundred impressions a day and maybe a couple clicks are getting 70,000 impressions a day and a couple dozen clicks before I pause the groups effected. None of these extra clicks are doing anything on my site really so I'm thinking it may be somebody's click bot gone nuts. The first morning I came in and saw 70,000 impressions I was really saying what the fuck.
  • A while ago I worked at *an undisclosed marketing company* which handled advertising campaigns for many companies through the big four or five advertisers, and every now and then we'd get complains coming in from the companies or people with a keen eye that an advert had turned up in an undesirable place.

    The best example of this was a partner of a parner of one of the agencies we advertise with that targeted adult websites, somebody within the company we were advertising for pointed out that their animal su
  • "The average user simply sees the pop-up, unaware of how many networks it traversed beforehand."

    If Yahoo gave out their own pop-up blocker, they'd help stop this from happening.
  • check out this track record [spywarewarrior.com] for 180 solutions. These guys have been corrupting your mom's computer since day one.
  • If you want to recieve free information over a system that costs money/effort to operate, you'll mostly get what people are willing to pay/work to have you look at.

    Which is the best reason for a 'micropayment' or subscription system.

    personally, I'd like a system where sites to cluster into overlapping groups for a mass subscription fee to advertisment free pages, where each group is administrated, and profits shared by humans, instead of an automated system.

    One small fee would cover all of OSTG, or all of G
  • I've noticed that all the click-throughs from LookSmart have to be from some sort of spyware company (I personally don't advertise there). I mean, who honestly has ever, ever gone to some place like "Frazoo.com" or "HadBest.net Search"? Or who besides people trying to run a site just to get PPC income has ever used "Findology.com"? I mean I just went to search there for Bill Bryson and the first result (looks identical to non-sponsored results) is for ringtones.

    To me, it seems like all these search places a
  • Speaking as a consumer, this is not a problem for me. I don't click on ads.

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