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Google sued for failing to prevent click fraud

Google has been sued for failing to prevent click fraud – the practice of skewing pay-per-click advertising data by generating lots of illegitimate hits, albeit a breach of the search engine's conditions of use, according to a report by Reuters.01 Jul 2005

The suit, filed by web analytics firm Click Defense last Friday, alleges that Google’s failure has cost users of its AdSense scheme at least $5 million.

The AdSense system allows advertisers to display targeted ads on web sites in return for the payment of a fee to Google each time an internet user clicks on one of their ads. Google then repays part of the fee to the web page owner. This is different to Google’s AdWords service, which allows advertisers to sponsor particular search terms so that, whenever that term is searched in Google, the advertiser’s link will appear next to the search results.

However, the AdSense scheme is open to abuse by web site owners who, keen to boost the fees repaid to them by Google, try to ensure that the third party adverts displayed on their site are clicked as often as possible. As a result, the search engine’s AdSense program policy states:

“Any method that artificially generates clicks is strictly prohibited. These prohibited methods include but are not limited to: repeated manual clicks, incentives to click, using robots, automated clicking tools, or other deceptive software. Please note that clicking on your own ads for any reason is prohibited, to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs”.

This is not enough for Click Defense which, according to Reuters, alleges that Google should do more to stop the practice, or should at least warn advertisers about the risks they run. The company is seeking class action status for its lawsuit.

A Google spokesman told Reuters that the company believes the lawsuit is without merit. The company takes AdSense abuse seriously. Last November, it sued Texas-based Auctions Expert International which had signed-up to display Google's targeted text advertising on its web site, and allegedly then fraudulently clicked on the ads to profit from its pay-per-click system.