Harvard Professor Details New, ‘Insidious’ Form Of Google Click Fraud

One of Google’s more vocal critics says the company should cut its ties with InfoSpace over what he calls “a particularly insidious kind of click fraud” that involves a fairly complex combination of paid ads, affiliate traffic brokering, and spyware. Harvard assistant professor Ben Edelman also wants Google to repay the affected advertisers and be more diligent in preventing schemes like the one he’s written about. Edelman details the scheme on his own site, and followed it up with additional comments in a Forbes.com article that calls it “the slickest click fraud yet.”

Unlike most click fraud, Edelman says this scheme actually leads to sales on the advertiser’s web site — making it harder to identify than traditional click fraud. But if the sale happens, it only happens after the buyer has been passed from site-to-site through a series of affiliates that all take a piece of the pay-per-click fees. As he explains to Forbes,

“The retailer may think it can detect click fraud by a low sales conversion rate,” says Edelman. “But here, the traffic converts. Based on that high conversion rate, they might even decide to raise their bid [in Google's advertising auction system] and have no way to realize that it’s all a ruse.”

Google didn’t respond specifically to Edelman’s example, but the company gave this statement in the Forbes piece:

“A Google spokesperson responded in an e-mailed statement that it’s the company’s policy “to prohibit [advertising] partners from being associated — whether directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally — with parties who buy traffic in ways that cause a poor user or advertiser experience,” and that it responds quickly to any violations of that policy.”

Edelman, it should be noted (as Forbes does), is currently involved in a lawsuit against Google involving the AdWords program; his bio also lists Microsoft as a “representative client.”

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Legal: Clickfraud | Search Ads: General


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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