The Shifting Sands Of Click Fraud

    July 26, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

No one debates the existence of those who would perpetrate click fraud on advertisers for financial gain. Gaining a better idea of the scope of the problem has been harder than pinning sand to a wall.

The Shifting Sands Of Click Fraud
The Shifting Sands Of Click Fraud

In an ideal world, I could spread some glue on a board, dump some sand on it, and hang it up when it dries. It would be something to look at, just not real pretty to see.

Click fraud isn’t pretty, either. Criminals attempts to generate advertising clicks to ads on web pages and sites they control. Each click that eludes the detection efforts of the advertising provider results in a real money gain for the scammers.

The debate starts there. How much click fraud takes place? It’s too simple a question, and unfair to those who combat it.

Let’s look at it from the angle Click Forensics has on the issue. The company, helmed by CEO Tom Cuthbert, looks at click fraud each quarter.

They recently found the overall click fraud rate, and the percentage of click fraud within content networks like Google’s AdSense and Yahoo’s Publisher Network, increased again. Cuthbert told WebProNews a big disparity exists between what they see, versus what the search engines report.

It’s a big number on the content network side: 25.6 percent of clicks deemed fraudulent for the second quarter of 2007. Such data has a real impact. Cuthbert said he’s seen clients moving away from the content networks.

But even as they pull back from networks, they stay in search. I asked if this meant search engines were just seeing a shift of budgets from network to paid search spending, but he claimed clients are also reducing their spending, due to the revenue risk.

Cuthbert blamed the latest figures, representing increases from the first quarter of the year, on automated activity. Botnets, a scourge of inboxes with spam and websites with DDoS attacks, have made a much bigger impact on click fraud.

I asked Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google’s business product manager of Trust & Safety and a respected participant in the click fraud debate, about botnets and click fraud. He isn’t ready to accept Cuthbert’s observation on the topic.

“Click Forensics, has offered no research on the topic, no potential solutions, nor any evidence to support their assertions related to botnets,” said Ghosemajumder.

Information represents the shifting sand in the discussion, the details we can’t nail down effectively. Search engines dismiss third party assessments because efforts at detecting and not charging for illicit clicks continually catch that fraud.

Third parties think more fraud gets through the process than the search engines want to concede. In either case, without truly knowing the scope of click fraud to begin with, how can either side really make a definitive claim about it?

More information, made available to an independent third party from the search engines and their advertisers, would be helpful. Cuthbert said overall click fraud hit 15.8 percent for the second quarter. Ghosemajumder has said in response to Fair Isaac’s peek into click fraud the rate Google sees is around 10 percent, of which they catch all but around 0.02 percent without charging an advertiser.

Cuthbert said, flatly, advertisers want more sharing of data. Search engines have claimed this will aid criminals; for Google’s part, they are working, albeit slowly, in concert with the IAB Click Measurement Working Group and the Media Ratings Council to make more information available as well as better defining illicit clicks.

“Auditing Google will further verify for our advertisers that we are doing what we’ve said for a long time to protect them; we’re doing much more than the minimum standards the audit will check against of course,” said Ghosemajumder.