Google Pooh-Poohs Click Fraud Claims

By Evan Schuman Print this article Print

Opinion: Google has issued a report saying that click fraud claims are overblown. The message is legit, but I'd prefer another messenger.

Click fraud is a huge threat to the massive, but not especially stable, Web advertising market.

Ad hawker extraordinaire Google is doing its best to combat that threat. Unfortunately, Google is focusing on fighting the claims as opposed to the fraud itself.

To be fair, Google has put a lot of programming talent into some very complex models to prevent click fraud. The latest Google efforts in that direction go well beyond examining IP addresses, browser type and version, and cookies, to include tracking patterns of movement that could differentiate between activity that is likely legitimate and activity that is probably not, said Alan Cohen, director of search intelligence for SpiderSplat Consulting, in Boston.

"Based on these parameters, Google can see if multiple clicks on the same advertiser's advertisement are from the same person or someone else. It would not surprise me if they also use information from the Google Tool Bar," Cohen said. "Remember that when a user goes back and forth, the between pages have AdSense code on them. Google can save their browsing patterns."

Analysis of traffic patterns can reveal a lot, Cohen said. "If a building or ISP Portal has a default page with AdSense on it, you may get multiple clicks on the same advertisement within a relatively small group of people," he said. "So if we have 20 people clicking on the same AdSense link, it will probably not count as fraud."

However, he said, "If the same group of people consistently click on the same groups of advertisements in a similar fashion/order, that is where Google's click fraud radar should beep," he said. "The following pattern from multiple people would be kosher: Click on ad number one and go to random pages form there. But if you get multiple users with the following pattern, it may be an indication of click fraud: Click on ad No. 1, go back to page A, click on ad two, go back to page A, etc."

So, clearly, Google has put some of its smarter people on the mission of trying to identify and block fraudulent clicks. But recent Google efforts to play down the amount of click fraud that exists today are less encouraging.

On Aug. 8, Google released a report (here in PDF) and some of its analysis based on questioning third-party firms and consultants that try and combat click fraud. The Washington Post did an interesting piece about the reports.

On the plus side, Google's efforts to combat click fraud are praiseworthy. It also seems very likely that a lot of consultants are indeed out there to make some easy sky-is-falling money from click fraud fears, preying on marketing execs who are prone to panic. However, it's hard to see Google as credible in saying that this click fraud business is a lot of HREFs about nothing.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Google Pooh-Poohs Click Fraud Claims

This article was originally published on 2006-08-09
Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.
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