Spyware Pops Drove Video Traffic

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Several video-oriented websites received illicit boosts in their traffic from third-party ad popups that occurred on people’s PCs. Those machines had been infected by spyware, which powered those popups.

Sites like Bolt, GrindTV, and others have been on the receiving end of web traffic generated through popup ads attached to malware. That traffic can inflate a site’s normal numbers to make it more appealing to advertisers or potential investors.

Researcher Ben Edelman looked beyond what the New York Times had revealed about the practice in December 2006. He found a half-dozen examples beyond those noted by the Times.

“Harm may accrue to advertisers — by overcharging them as well as by placing their ads in spyware they seek to avoid,” said Edelman. “Harm may accrue to investors, by causing them to overpay for sites whose true popularity is less than traffic statistics indicate.

“In any event, harm accrues to consumers and to the public at large, through funding of spyware that sneaks onto users’ PCs with negative effects on privacy, reliability, and performance.”

Through analysis of packet logs and observations of various spyware packages in action, Edelman was able to specifically cite six examples of video sites that enjoyed traffic above and beyond their usual visits, thanks to the nature of the spyware delivering ads about them.

Here are the sites Edelman detailed in his report:

GrindTV, owned by PureVideo Networks
Away.com, run by Orbitz
Roo TV

Edelman suggested why video sites may be resorting to these tactics:

Video sites are strikingly prevalent in the preceding examples and in other forced-visit traffic I have observed. Why? Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube inspired others hoping to receive even a fraction of YouTube’s valuation. So far no competitor has gained much traction. But the expectation that video sites grow virally creates an incentive to try to jump-start traffic by any means possible — even spyware-originating traffic.

Though a new video site is unlikely to attract the goo-gobs of money YouTube made in its deal with Google, being able to claim a modest fraction of its value would make a video site’s backers immensely wealthy. It isn’t hard to understand why that would motivate them to seek traffic by any means possible.

Spyware Pops Drove Video Traffic
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