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click fraud

noun [countable/uncountable]

the dishonest activity of clicking on an online advertisement in order to deliberately generate a charge per click

click fraudster

noun [countable]

'When it comes to click fraud, search engines are on the defensive. In lawsuits, advertisers accuse Internet companies of failing to adequately guard against a practice that's lining the pockets of scam artists, and artificially inflating ad rates.'

Business Week 17th August 2006

'Google cracked down on alleged click fraudsters today, suing Texas-based Auction Experts for allegedly clicking on their own AdSense links in order to generate more per-click income.'

MarketingVOX.com 22nd November 2004

The anonymity of the Internet has given it a reputation as a haven for fraudulent activities. One of the most recent practices to hit the spotlight is what is being referred to as click fraud, an activity that has the potential to wreak havoc in a multi-billion dollar industry.

anyone, or indeed anything, could do the clicking in order to knowingly and deliberately generate advertising revenue – in other words, commit click fraud

The problem of click fraud centres around the concept of an online form of advertising known as pay per click, often abbreviated to PPC. Pay per click advertisements often appear as text ads placed near search results, so that Internet search engines such as Google™ effectively become ad 'publishers'. When a user clicks on these ads, the advertiser is charged a small amount and the 'publisher' receives a percentage. The PPC advertising industry is growing at a very fast rate, with some analysts claiming that it accounts for 90% of all Internet sales. The revenue from purchases generated by PPC advertising is often split between the advertiser and the 'publisher'.

The simplicity of PPC and the anonymity of web users make it wide open to fraudulent manipulation. Instead of a genuinely-interested party clicking on an ad for further information, it's not difficult to see that anyone, or indeed anything, could do the clicking in order to knowingly and deliberately generate advertising revenue – in other words, commit click fraud. As well as increasing ad revenues, click fraud is sometimes used by rivals of the company whose ad is clicked on, as a way of deliberately causing them to spend more on advertising.

Click fraud is a big problem because its perpetrators, sometimes described as click fraudsters, are many and varied. In its simplest form, click fraud can consist of a home computer user setting up a website, and allowing a company to place a pay per click advertisement on it, so that they then become a 'publisher'. If they then merrily and fraudulently click away on the ad on their own website, they get paid for it.

On a larger scale, there is evidence of website 'publishers' committing click fraud by hiring a large number of low-paid workers to form what is now described as a click factory. The workers repeatedly click on the targeted ads, reaping benefits for the 'publishers' and making the advertising campaign appear very successful.

Click fraud occurs on its grandest scale when it involves the use of online bots, software including automated clicking tools, which simulate random users and can click at a much faster rate than humans can.

The pay per click industry is lobbying for tighter laws on the issue of click fraud. Fraudulent clicks have recently been estimated to be as much as 20% of total clicks, and have spawned an entire industry geared towards the provision of anti-click-fraud services.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 20th October 2006.

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