Google downplays extent of click fraud problem

1 Nov 2006

Google has claimed that estimates of click fraud in the online advertising industry have been exaggerated.

Shuman Ghosemajumder, business product manager for trust and safety at Google, accused some third-party analytics providers of playing up the problem of click fraud. “Some firms appear to make the problem larger than it is,” he said at a press briefing in Dublin last week.

Click fraud is found in pay-per-click online advertising when a person or computer program imitates a legitimate user of a web browser, clicking on an ad even if they have no intention of visiting a site or buying anything from it. It’s a controversial issue that has already seen Google and Yahoo! Pay out legal bills for having allegedly and inadvertently profited from the practice.

According to Ghosemajumder, some advertisers focus on the return on investment that their online adverts give and when there is an unexplained drop in this figure, they conclude — often erroneously in Google’s view — that this is due to click fraud.

Previously, in the absence of hard and fast data some advertisers used third-party companies to provide estimates of click fraud. Figures varied between 14pc and 20pc of clicks as being fraudulent but Ghosemajumder said these estimates were “exaggerated”. “The total number of invalid clicks on average is in the single digits, quarter over quarter,” he said.

Earlier this summer Google adjusted its AdWords system so it reveals to advertisers the number of invalid clicks on their ads. “Every click … is analysed by our real-time filters,” he said, adding that Google closely guards the methods it uses to detect click fraud. Almost all invalid clicks are caught by Google’s systems, Ghosemajumder claimed. AdWords customers can now look at data on invalid clicks on a daily basis or beyond and they can check historical click measurements that date back from last January.

Google is also participating with groups such as the Internet Advertising Bureau to define industry standards around measuring clicks on online ads. The company released a study into this on the AdWords blog two months ago but Ghosemajumder said that it had little effect on how the third-party web auditing providers operate. “None of these firms have changed what they’re doing at all,” he said. “Clearly it’s a decision on their part not to take action.”

Differences in the counting systems mean that there are discrepancies between Google and some of the third-party firms as to how clicks are measured and, consequently, how great is the extent of fraudulent activity.

Ghosemajumder added that advertisers were entitled to use a third-party auditing service to verify their clicks but he claimed that “the vast majority” do not do so. “For the vast majority of advertisers, undetected click fraud is not a problem for them.”

By Gordon Smith