14 November 2006

Who is behind that web site?

There was a famous cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine with a caption, "On the Internet nobody knows that you are a dog." These days anyone with a bit of talent can get free or $1.99 hosting and put up an impressive web site. If the site causes someone to think that it is a substantial company, whose fault is it if something goes wrong?

Similarly, in the click fraud detection service area, companies need to check who is behind the companies that see your click data. Where does the data sit, who has access to it and is it secure? I don't mean to suggest that the proverbial entrepreneur-in-a-garage is evil. Far from it, given that companies such as Google and HP started in garages. You cannot really find out if organised crime is behind such a company - organised crime is already alleged to be behind some click fraud. Would your click data be valuable to a competitor? Think about it.

06 November 2006

CDD and PIRG (who?) complain about adCenter

I hadn't heard of the Center for Digital Democracy or the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which isn't surprising since I am in Australia, but perhaps they need the publicity. They have complained about Microsoft adCenter and other online services that collect information. The PC World article says:
CDD Executive Director Jeff Chester called on the FTC to shut down new forms of online data collection until consumer safeguards are in place. "Consumers have the right to have the option to opt in [to data collection]," he said. "What is wrong with letting the consumers make decision about how their data is used?"
Privacy fanatics want to be totally anonymous unless they deem otherwise. It's a nice thought but most of them don't run businesses, so they ignore the notion that business owners just might be able to deliver better service if they can collect some information about their customers. Similarly, there is a whole personalisation and CRM industry out there telling business owners to serve different customers differently (look up Peppers & Rogers).

Given my background in marketing and being a user of PPC advertising, I am on the side of CRM but this isn't about me. When Microsoft launched adCenter, I applauded the ability to refine the demographic target audience for my ads. I don't want to waste my money on an anonymous audience but I don't want to know their names and personal details.

I wonder if these complainants are aware that Google also allows demographic targeting. Why didn't they pick on the larger player? Here is the quote:
Chester called online data collection "pervasive and ubiquitous" and said the two groups focused first on Microsoft because it has told potential advertisers its data collection techniques are better than those used by rivals such as Google and Yahoo.
How is this relevant to click fraud? It is, in the sense that to protect these privacy fanatics against phishing and other nasties (and advertisers from click fraud), someone needs to collect information, in this case, about the bad guys. I don't know if there is any way to identify the bad guys without collecting behavioural information!

I am active in running volunteer user groups and recently set up the Zune User Group. I used adCenter Labs to see what information was available about my target audience. Not surprisingly, I found that the target age group is <18,>

03 October 2006

YAOAACF by San Jose Business Journal

No easy answers for advertisers suffering from online click fraud
By Mark Larson
Small businesses are increasingly turning to third party "click monitoring" companies as a way to help prevent being charged for the type of phantom business that recently cost Google Inc. $90 million in an Arkansas court settlement.

Nothing new here apart from exposure for a couple of companies.

01 October 2006

MySpace: A Click Fraud Social Network?

IncrediBILL's Random Rants: MySpace: A Click Fraud Social Network?

Check out my fellow WW member's post exposing major web properties such as Blogger and YouTube for apparently ignoring posters who encourage clicking ads. Here are some YouTube posters who encourage clicks.

26 September 2006

Clickprints on the Web

Wharton professor Balaji Padmanabhan and Yinghui Yang, a professor at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis have published a paper entitled, "Clickprints on the Web: Are There Signatures in Web Browsing Data?" They reveal how it is possible to identify unique users based merely on their browsing behaviour.

These professors are on the right track, but they are looking at finding click patterns of individuals more so than finding suspicious click behaviour. This could be useful for "confirming" that a single user at a multi-user IP address is generating invalid clicks.

04 September 2006

AdSense publisher clicks ads on her site; sues Google

Now this isn't click fraud in the usual sense but a funny story about a woman whose AdSense account was cancelled because she admitted clicking ads on her own site. She mustn't have read the ToS or heard of the preview tool.

The thread in Geek Village is funny too.

23 August 2006

Yet another click fraud lawsuit (YACFL)

Why am I not surprised to read about yet another click fraud lawsuit?

This eweek article mentions a proposed class action against Google by one Samuel Lasoff. He seems to be an advertiser but the article talks about aggrieved publishers:
"and accuses Google of exposing publishers to click fraud following a breach of contract,"
I can't find the original filing in the PA courthouse (what a quaint, 1990s web site!) so I can't tell if he is a publisher or advertiser. He certainly appears to be an affiliate, so I suspect he had Adwords pointing to his sites.

Let's see what happens.

15 August 2006

Click! Mouse fraud bytes web advertisers

Emma Connors and Mark Jones have written about click fraud in today's Australian Financial Review. Unfortunately the article cannot be viewed online for free. They write that Nielsen/NetRatings is starting research into this issue in Australia. They are going to look at the behaviour of IP addresses, exactly what I said in the same article!

Also quoted is ClickSentinel, which claims that 30% of clicks are fraudulent. I wonder if Shuman Ghosemajumder's team at Google will look into this claim next. :)

Baidu accused of click fraud

China Search Engine Watch blogged about a demonstration by advertisers outside Baidu's Beijing offices: (sic)

On August 4, 2006, some advertisers gathered outside Chinese search engine Baidu's office building and demonstrate against its click faults. From the post boards presented by the demonstrators, it was said that 70% of clicks on Baidu's paid ads were invalid. The claimed data was notarized by Beijing Notarization Bureau. The advertisers came to the building during lunch time and were expelled by the security guards.

09 August 2006

Google's analysis of click fraud detection

This 17-page report from Google's click quality team makes a lot of sense. Look at the US search engine conference speaker list for the past three years and witness the same names saying much the same things. Most of them represented click fraud detection services. I don't blame them for promoting their services and I don't claim to know how good they all were. There had been this figure of 30% click fraud bandied around as an industry norm. I have not seen this in the few accounts I have access to but I am not in a position to guess what it might be.

The Google report on third-party click fraud auditing is critical of poorly substantiated estimates of click fraud. Quote:

Over the last year, these estimates have received widespread media coverage. A different kind of report (from Outsell, Inc.) has also been widely cited for estimating the scope of the problem. But in fact that report did not measure click fraud – it was an opinion survey of advertisers asking them to guess at the extent of the problem. Thus the report’'s conclusions about the percentage of fraud and financial loss for the industry are essentially a poll of the perception of the size of the problem (with the backdrop of the previous coverage of high estimates) rather than actual size of the problem. This is analogous to estimating crime rates in a country by asking some residents how much crime they think there is, and averaging those guesses to state that number is the actual rate.

The main problem seems to be fictitious clicks of two kinds:

  • Fictitious clicks due to detection of page reloads as ad clicks.

  • Fictitious clicks due to conflation across advertisers and ad networks.
The page-reloading behaviour problem is handled very nicely by Visitlab. Their reporting shows a visitor's path through the site and shows the initial paid click and subsequent traversals of the same page as internal clicks. A poorly designed click fraud detection mechanism might show each reload as a separate click.

In the early days of Visitlab, such clicks showed as multiple (suspicious) clicks but no more.

I have not seen the second kind of problem, where each click goes through a third party audit service and clicks within the site are counted, as are clicks arising on another advertiser service such as Overture/Yahoo.

07 August 2006

Blatant invitation to click ads

This was seen two days ago at a publisher site and the AdSense is still showing regular ads. Search for the text you can see in the image and find the URL.

03 August 2006

IAB announces the formation of industry-wide Click Measurement Working Group

It is heartening to read about the formation of a working group comprising the major PPC ad companies including Ask.com, Google, LookSmart, Microsoft and Yahoo!. They will initially define Click Measurement Guidelines, thereby defining a click.

Although this is a start, I'd like to see a consortium of such companies team up with other major web sites such as Amazon and eBay to develop what I loosely refer to as an "IP address score". It would be a multidimensional, not flat numeric, score, and be available to consortium members to use as an additional input to their own proprietary click quality algorithms. It could have other uses outside this click fraud space.

27 July 2006

Google AdWords lifts veil (a little)

Finally, Google has bowed to pressure and given advertisers a way to see what it calls "invalid clicks". Anyone managing a large account has known that Google chucks random little amounts as account credits, which are explained as refunds for invalid clicks.

I have said in this blog for some time and in WIRED magazine that Google is good at keeping click fraud at bay, so I am not surprised to see a low rate of invalid clicks in one account.

Several participants in the AdWords forum on Webmasterworld have shared their own invalid click statistics. It seems to be below 4% for most of the posters.

But it all depends on the total spend. For a $45,000 spend, 4.2% is worth $1900 of savings because Google detected it. For a $65,000 spend, 3.7% invalid clicks add up to $2400. Advertisers can still speculate how many invalid clicks won't be picked up by Google. The "get paid to read ads" scams are still around.

Back to the WW discussion, europeforvisitors made a good point, "ROI is what determines whether an advertiser is in or out." Many advertisers seem to treat invalid clicks just as a retailer treats shoplifting - as long as the ROI is good, click fraud is part of the cost of doing business.

There is still a place for independent click fraud detection services. It would be great if Google were to release some more information about those invalid clicks - where they came from, IP addresses, time of day, number of clicks from each source. This is unlikely to happen, as it would drag Google into lawsuits between advertisers and the alleged invalid clickers.

19 July 2006

The sun rises in the East (YAOAACF)

eMarketer cites a company that is offering a $495, 27-page report on how much money is being lost to click fraud. I think there is money to be made is by writing about the click fraud threat. Now why didn't I think of that?

At least we agree that there is growing apathy towards CF in advertiser land.

14 July 2006

Bruce Schneier YAOAACF

Bruce Schneier has discovered two of the four or five kinds of click fraud as seen in this YAOAACF (Yet Another Obligatory Article About Click Fraud). Nothing new there, but he mentions fraud in online gaming activities and cost-per-action (CPA) ads.

Ah well, that should fulfil July's quota of click fraud articles.

29 April 2006

Ben Edelman's report on syndicated click fraud

I was privileged to meet and listen to Ben Edelman at the Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas in January 2006. His presentations are technical - where the audience needs to know what is a packet sniffer, for example. His recent report has made small waves in various online communities. He accuses Yahoo of being complicit in syndicated click fraud. He says:
In my August syndication fraud examples, an advertiser only pays Yahoo if a user clicks the advertiser's ad. Not so for three of today's examples. Here, spyware completely fakes a click -- causing Yahoo to charge an advertiser a "pay-per-click" fee, even though no user actually clicked on any pay-per-click link. This is "click fraud."
This document offer four fully-documented examples of improper ad displays (1, 2, 3, 4), including three separate examples showing click fraud. I then develop a taxonomy of the problem and suggest strategies for improvement.

Ben shows [quote]"video, screenshot, and packet log proof of how spyware vendors and advertisement syndicators defraud Yahoo's advertisers".[unquote]

Rivetting reading!

In Game of Click and Mouse, Advertisers Come Up Empty

Leslie Walker reported in the Washington Post last month:
Google has repeatedly pooh-poohed click fraud, contending that it is a minor annoyance that it has under control with automated detection technology. At a meeting with analysts two weeks ago, chief executive Eric Schmidt said click fraud "is not a material issue." Co-founder Sergey Brin said such cases amount to "a small fraction" of Google's ad clicks.
But six days later, Google surprised analysts when it agreed to settle an Arkansas class-action lawsuit by setting aside $90 million worth of ad credits to advertisers that can show invalid click charges dating to 2002.

The article is about Radiator.com whose click fraud auditor [quote] "ClickFacts Inc. estimated that 35 percent of the referrals that Radiator paid Google for stemmed from bogus traffic. Likewise, 17 percent of the leads that came from Yahoo search results were illegitimate." [unquote]

As reported in previous posts, click fraud thrives, as seen in the projects commissioned at the freelance sites, and it was probably very easy to perpetrate back in 2002. I look forward to hearing more reports of how bad it is in 2006. Would any click fraudsters care to comment?

Who wins from click fraud?

Jason Lee Miller has written an interesting article in WebProNews as a follow up to the class-action lawsuit filed by Lane's Gifts and Collectibles in Arkansas against Google. The plaintiffs' lawyers will apparently receive $30M! The preliminary settlement awards advertisers covered by the suit just 0.5%.

27 April 2006

Click Fraud Less Than Expected

The average click-fraud rate across search-advertising industries is 13.7 percent, according to Click Forensics.
This is an interesting statistic and confirms my suspicion that the major PPCSEs are fairly good at keeping advertisers happy.

While you wait for them to ready their free click fraud detector, you can use the free click fraud service at Visitlab

14 April 2006

Click fraud with only a $150 investment?

Here is an interesting customer looking for a programmer to build a click fraud tool (I think):
I need a VERy VERY strong/expert custom click fraud program. This program should work, undetectable and pure random.
It would be a good project for someone working for Google AdWords/Yahoo Search Marketing or MSN AdCenter to monitor.

18 March 2006

Multiple clicker drops in to visit

Just after saying that there wasn't any suspicious activity of late, an AOL visitor appeared to click a few times on the 14th. Google has recorded only one click, so no real harm done.

04 March 2006

No click fraud here

This is more of a non-post, only because my tiny PPC account has not noted any click fraud of late. I am not complaining. Perhaps sites that show evidence of a click fraud service tracking code are being avoided by the organised click fraud gangs?