Sunday, November 26, 2006

Weighing in on Click Fraud

There is an article in The Economist discussing click fraud. For anyone in the online marketing industry, click fraud is a problem, both in terms of it actually occurring and in terms of making your way through the maze of required documentation search engines like Google and Yahoo! need to review before considering granting a refund for click fraud.

Google has discussed click fraud on its official blog, especially in regard to the Lane's Gifts lawsuit. Surprise, surprise, they settled that one. And there are posts on the AdWords blog about click fraud, and one that suggests fundamental flaws in third party click fraud auditing. Always nice to see that the company that stands to make the most money out of pay-per-click advertising finds flaws in third party audits. Like there aren't flaws in their own analysis.

But that's all beside the point. There is talk, now, of standards. And setting up an independent auditing system. About time! Except it isn't quite that simple. "Independent" really means that the audits won't be conducted directly by a search engine or a third party that doesn't have something to gain, either by working to bring down a search behemoth or becoming a household name as a clever scam artist, bilking advertisers out of millions of dollars, millions of dollars that might have gone to search engines instead.

Then there is the question of data sharing. Online marketing advertisers as well as search engines know the value of data, of user information and tracking that information from first click to subsequent bounces until the visitor leaves the website all together. How willing, really, are search engines going to be in sharing the massive amount of data they collect on every user, with an independent auditing system they didn't hand pick?

Google has shown great reluctance to share information with the US government, what would make an independent auditing system different?

Until there are actual rules in place, rules for sharing all data, rules to still protect the data and even an oversight, governing body, click fraud standards, or Internet standards for that matter, aren't going to be of much use.

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