Search Giants Gang Up on Click Fraud

By Nicholas Carlson
Search firms Google (Quote, Chart), Microsoft (Quote, Chart), Yahoo (Quote, Chart), Ask.com and LookSmart (Quote, Chart)  are sick of the click fraud problem and they’re doing something about it.

The search vendors, under the aegis of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and in conjunction with the Media Rating Council, formed the Click Measurement Working Group this week.

Their goal is to forge a set of Click Measurement Guidelines to discern the difference between legitimate clicks and fraudulent or invalid clicks on their advertisers’ sponsored links.

Fraudulent clicks are generated by human hand or by bots programmed to hit competitors’ sites over and over. The result is a decrease in the retailer’s return on investment.

Click fraud (define) is a trend that is making businesses wary of their costs of listing on search engines, which make billions from pay-for-click advertising.

The Click Measurement Working Group said it also plans to outline an auditing and certification recommendation for any organization involved in performance-based marketing.

This includes search engines, ad networks, third-party ad servers, or any company that counts clicks as a part of the media currency.

The working group said independent auditing against the guidelines should provide advertisers with added security for their Internet advertising endeavors.

Ben Edelman, an opponent of click fraud at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, told internetnews.com this is cautiously optimistic development.

“Advertisers’ click fraud worries result in part from search engines’ extreme secrecy,” Edelman said. “If search engines had been more transparent about their anti-click fraud strategies, advertisers would have less reason to be concerned,” Edelman said.

“This group reflects a step of size yet to be determined toward telling advertisers what search engines do to stop click fraud and why advertisers need not worry,” he added.

Google was more bullish about the united front.

“We’ve been working to improve transparency about invalid clicks for our advertisers and we’re pleased to join an industry-wide effort with the same goal,” said Shuman Ghosemajumder, business product manager for trust & safety at Google, in a statement.

Google’s enthusiasm for such a group is understandable; advertisers sued the search giant and won a $90 million settlement that was approved last week.

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