Spyware & Click Fraud

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  • January 13, 2010
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Depending on whether you believe Google or the fake click detection companies click fraud is big business. Detecting it is impossible for small advertisiers and it’s now being made even harder for even larger companies thanks to a new scam involving spyware.

Traditionally fake clicks were very costly to the merchant because the traffic wasn’t real and therefore didn’t convert. The new spyware scam infects a persons PC and when they are about to visit a popular ecommerce site the system triggers a fake click and sends the user though the tracking link to the site where they carry on and make a purchase. Clever stuff.

Below are the details via Ben Edelman who uncovered the system.

I’ve repeatedly reported improper placements of Google ads. In most of my write-ups, the impropriety occurs in ad placement — Google PPC ads shown in spyware popups), in typosquatting sites, or in improperly-installed and/or deceptive toolbars. This article is different: Here, the impropriety includes a fake click — click fraud — charging an advertiser for a PPC click, when in fact the user never actually clicked.

But this is no ordinary click fraud. Here, spyware on a user’s PC monitors the user’s browsing to determine the user’s likely purchase intent. Then the spyware fakes a click on a Google PPC ad promoting the exact merchant the user was already visiting. If the user proceeds to make a purchase — reasonably likely for a user already intentionally requesting the merchant’s site — the merchant will naturally credit Google for the sale. Furthermore, a standard ad optimization strategy will lead the merchant to increase its Google PPC bid for this keyword on the reasonable (albeit mistaken) view that Google is successfully finding new customers. But in fact Google and its partners are merely taking credit for customers the merchant had already reached by other methods.

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