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Thursday, April 13, 2006

While We're "Surveilling" People... (Or, Life After Click Fraud)

I have an interview with a Wall Street type today. One of our topics happens to be click fraud. This has usually been a topic when financial analysts have wanted to pick my brain about the search marketing industry.

This coincides with something I've noticed recently: some cracks of daylight in what can be a difficult slog through crummy clicks. For some time now, advertisers in many industries have been aware that the primary sources of bad clicks appear to be (a) bad content partners; (b) malicious clicks on high-priced "core" keywords, possibly by competitors.

Some of the latter is starting to ease off as fraud perpetrators recognize the magnitude of what they are doing. One seller of office supplies on a forum has IP-based proof that employees of a major office supply company click rampantly on his ads, month after month. Now that can be comparison shopping, but it might also be seen as low-level sabotage. Two good results can come of gaining a better understanding of this. One, Google and Yahoo can continue to do a better job of filtering these clicks and not charging the advertiser for them. Two, the perpetrators can eventually be called on the carpet for their behavior, especially if it can be proven to be deliberate or malicious.

How can you prove anything like that? Well, what if this started to happen: people who rampantly click on high-cost search ads have their activities logged, and actions investigated. Draconian? Maybe. Impossible? I doubt it. Recently, through a combination of technology from companies like Microsoft and police surveillance, a number of child porn related busts were made. If we're going to be wiretapping everyone anyway, I'm betting that even a clever Internet user could be busted if they were part of a click fraud conspiracy. Or even if they just clicked a few hundred times on high-priced ads in an obvious pattern to defraud.

I'm no believer in draconian surveillance. But I am tired of high-tech rogues basically taunting us with the premise that they can't be caught. They're just too darn sophisticated! For those of us who often keep ads turned on only in the United States and a few other countries (not Poland), I think it's entirely possible that the perps overestimate their capacity for anonymity.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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