TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Click Fraud Looms As Search-Engine Threat

Re: Click Fraud Looms As Search-Engine Threat

Michael D. Sullivan (userid@camsul.example.invalid)
Sun, 13 Feb 2005 05:26:06 GMT

In article <>, lisa_minter2001 says...

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response to Lisa Minter:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Is it 'click fraud' when a netizen
> is casually surfing around the net and clicks on an ad *thinking* they
> might possibly be interested in it then they discover they are not
> interested?

No, it's not. It's window shopping, as you suggest below. You, the
casual user, haven't signed or clicked on any contract regarding your
right to click.

> Isn't clicking on an ad more or less the same thing as 'window shopping'
> which as often as not does not produce revenue for the owner of the
> window? If I return to a store window a second or third time, to
> examine the goods more closely and have thoughts of my own about the
> merchandise, is that the essence of 'click fraud'?

The analogy is apt. You, the consumer, even have the right to engage a
salesperson's attention for an extended period. You can go into
Tiffany's and ask to try on dozens of rings, necklaces, watches, or
whatever, and then say "thank you very much," and walk out. You can do
this every day for weeks on end, if you want, as long as you are doing
it in good faith and not with the intention of tying up their
salespeople so others can't be served. Tiffany's has every right to
decline to deal with you, though.

I'm sure Tiffany's has had the opportunity to determine the extent to
which encouraging such window- shopping ultimately results in sales.
If it isn't productive over time, they won't let it go on, and will
shoo away the repeat time-wasters. If it is productive over time, and
the repeat non-customers eventually fall in love with the diamond
necklace or silver ring, then Tiffany's will accept this as the cost
of doing business.

The same is true of supermarkets and discount stores, which advertise
loss-leader items to get people into the store. Consumers are
entitled to buy only the under-cost paper towels, cosmetics, towels,
coffeepots, paper shredders, or wifi cards and nothing else, if they
choose. If, over time, it turns out that's all they buy, the stores
will have to change their strategies. Similarly, you the consumer
have the right to call an 800 number to find out information about a
company's services or products, even if that company is a spammer.

The fact is that any promotional gimmick has costs, and the company
using any gimmick must monitor its costs and benefits. The law firms
promoting melisthomelia suits have to decide whether it's worth paying
$51 a click for 1000 curious onlookers, based on how many clients they
get out of it and the likelihood of recovery. They can stop paying
for the clicks at any time if it isn't working out.

It's different, however, when someone sets out deliberately to impose
unnecessary costs on a business, as opposed to shopping in good faith
as a consumer. If Cartier's, for example, sent people into Tiffany's
to tie up their salespeople, and Tiffany's suffered lost sales, then
Tiffany's might have grounds for a lawsuit against Cartier's.
Likewise, if someone with no commercial motive, just a bad attitude,
repeatedly sent people into Tiffany's and tied up salespeople trying
on rings with no intention of buying in order to damage Tiffany's
business, grounds for a lawsuit might exist. It also wouldn't be
legitimate for someone to repeatedly and maliciously call the 800
number of a spammer (or send faxes to a fax spammer) in order to run
up their costs and damage their business. In a similar vein, if a
competing law firm hired a bunch of people to repeatedly click on a
melisthomelia link in order to run up the advertised firm's costs,
there might be grounds for a lawsuit. Situations such as these are
similar to a "Denial of Service" attack on a website and should not be
considered as though they were legitimate consumer actions.

> Merchants need to realize that when they nicely decorate a window on a
> well traveled thoroughfare, that people are going to stop and look at
> it sometimes, most of whom will not go inside nor buy anything. And
> maybe services like Google and Yahoo need to quit the practice of
> auctioning off the clicks to the highest bidder and instead just start
> selling 'x' number of displays (or page hits) for 'x' dollars, and
> when 'x" number of hits has been reached, then quit displaying the ad
> at all, and quit playing games with particular 'word popularity' and
> such. There is a lot I could say about the kinds of ads they serve up
> to me on the telecom pages (and frequently the lack of any ads at all)
> but I shall not bother; I'll just go along playing the games I see
> other webmaster/publishers playing, making what little I can from it.
> But the system does need to be improved, that's for sure. PAT]

Yahoo and Google should remain essentially unregulated in this respect.
If the auctioned-off click model works, good for them. If it doesn't
work, they will change to something else that has better prospects.
Likewise, companies are free to buy ad slots at auctioned prices, or
not; whether this makes sense for them depends on their business model.
They should not, however, be subjected to intentional damage to their
business by competitors or cranks just because they posted an ad. The
companies selling ads (e.g., Yahoo and Google) and the advertisers
should try to find a method for resolving the issue that works for both
sides. For example, a plaintiff's asbestos law firm might negotiate
with Yahoo and Google to disqualify another firm from advertising for a
period if it is somehow linked to fraudulent clicks.

Michael D. Sullivan
Bethesda, MD, USA
Replace "example.invalid" with ".com".

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