Is Rampant Web Traffic Fraud Ruining the Internet?

business_ethics_highlights_2Online advertising is a fascinating industry. The evolved business model calls for payments to be proportional to views and click-throughs. That creates incentives for fraud: views and click-throughs may come from real-live potential customers or they may be contrived through software. This, in turn, is creating a market for third-party validation of web traffic. It will be interesting to see whether the problems web traffic fraud creates will be solved by a market or by a regulatory response. This piece is an interesting account of the scope of the problem and the measures industry players are employing to control it.>>>

LINK: How Much of Your Audience Is Fake? The Fake Traffic Schemes That Are Rotting the Internet (by Ben Elgin, Michael Riley, David Kocieniewski, and Joshua Brustein for Bloomberg Business)

“We thought digital would come close and compete with television in terms of effectiveness.”

Late that year he and a half-dozen or so colleagues gathered in a New York conference room for a presentation on the performance of the online ads. They were stunned. Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20 percent of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.

Less ethical methods are cheaper. Pop-ups—those tiny browser windows that you ignore, click to close, or never see—are one way to inflate visitor numbers. As soon as that window appears on your computer, you’re counted as someone who’s seen the ads. An even more cost-effective technique—and as a rule of thumb, fake is always cheaper—is an ad bot, malware that surreptitiously takes over someone else’s computer and creates a virtual browser. This virtual browser, invisible to the computer’s owner, visits websites, scrolls through pages, and clicks links. No one is viewing the pages, of course; it’s just the malware. But unless the bot is detected, it’s counted as a view by traffic-measuring services. A botnet, with thousands of hijacked computers working in concert, can create a massive “audience” very quickly.

What do you think?


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