What is click fraud?
The issue has been bandied about for years by online advertisers, yet click fraud remains misunderstood. Even with a spate of media attention devoted to the subject in the latter part of this year, a recent panel at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago revealed a lack of industry-wide consensus on what constitutes an act of click fraud.
So ClickZ News asked experts at Google and Overture how the two leading search engines define click fraud, and what proprietary mechanisms they have in place to protect advertisers against it. This is the second article in a series on click fraud.
Click Fraud Defined
Overture defines click fraud as, "clicks arising for reasons other than the good-faith intention of an Internet user to visit a Web site to purchase goods or services or to obtain information," according to spokesperson Dina Freeman.
Google is a bit more specific, defining click fraud, "or invalid clicks, as any method used to artificially and/or maliciously generate clicks or page impressions," according to Salar Kamangar, director of product management.
Examples of invalid clicks, according to Kamangar, include: manual clicks on an ad to purposefully increase the ad spend; deliberate clicks on an ad to increase profits by site owners hosting the ads; and automated clicking tools, ’bots, or other deceptive software.
Both Overture and Google have proprietary anti-click fraud technology, which they refine on an ongoing basis. Both keep the system details secret for security reasons.
Overture’s "click protection system combines proprietary systems, filtering technologies, and human intervention," according to Freeman. The company says it’s been continually refined since 1998.
"Our system operates 24 hours a day, monitoring each click and filtering out those that are questionable, or clearly unqualified," Freeman said. "We track search and click patterns across more than 50 data points, including IP address, users’ session information, browser information, and pattern recognition."
For its part, Google uses its own proprietary technology to analyze clicks to determine whether they fit a pattern of activity intended to artificially drive up an advertiser’s costs.
"Our system automatically distinguishes between clicks generated through normal use by users, and clicks generated by unethical users and automated robots, enabling us to filter out invalid clicks," Kamangar said.
Google provided three examples of techniques it uses to detect invalid click activity. First, it employs standard click monitoring techniques; examining every click into its system based on signals such as IP address, duplicate clicks, and other basic click patterns for invalid click activity.
Second, Google uses advanced monitoring techniques developed by a team holding PhDs in computer science, statistics, and mathematics to detect and handle invalid click activity. "This group has developed innovative and effective proprietary security mechanisms which we continually augment and improve to adapt to changes in invalid click behavior," Kamangar said. "We invest in research and development to continually upgrade our detection mechanisms to proactively combat invalid click activity."
Finally, Google employs a team of technical specialists whose job is to manually investigate individual cases where click fraud is suspected. "The team uses specialized tools and a wide variety of techniques based on extensive experience tracking and monitoring invalid click activity," Kamangar said. "When signs of invalid click activity are detected, this team has advanced resources for identifying the perpetrators of this activity."
If a Google review reveals invalid click activity, advertisers are credited and publishers may have their payments adjusted. Additionally, Google reserves the right to take legal action, as it did against Texas-based Auction Experts International in a lawsuit it filed in November.
"Any advertiser or publisher participating in invalid click activity or other related offense is subject to being banned from our system and subject to prosecution," Kamangar warns.
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March 19, 2014