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Clickfraud done right.

 6:22 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Just heard about this on a non-webmaster forum, don't even see it in Google news yet. Don't have full details yet.....

Apparently Rush Limbaugh (a well known American conservative talking head) didn't like a website that advertised on the term 'SEC Goldman Sachs'. So he encouraged his listeners to search on the term, and then click on that website's ads. The idea was to drain their budget and shut down their advertising.

And because Rush Limbaugh's listenership is so widespread I bet this actually worked. I read that the offending ads are now removed.

My comments are:
1) this is interesting from the perspective of it being what I suspect is the first truly plausible full scale click fraud tactic. how can Google guard against that? Tough to do. It's also probably the first time click fraud or clickbombing (you read it here first) hit the mainstream.
2) Will we see more of this? Grassroots campaigns to take ad campaigns offline.
3) THere's opportunity here folks. If you're looking to advertise something, time to start bidding on that term! Apparently there's already at least one sharp web design firm doing it.



 6:34 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

The idea was to drain their budget

So Rush thinks that theft and fraud are okay when they suit HIS purposes?



 6:59 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

The general population isn't the same as the webmaster community. I believe you'd be hard pressed to get them to believe that what they're doing is either theft or fraud.

If you put flyers out saying 'free' and someone else encourages everyone to walk by and take one, they won't see that as theft or fraud either.


 7:03 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I found some video where Rush is talking about it, and while I didn't see any segments where he was actually encouraging click fraud I sure saw him spouting a lot of misinformation about how Google ads work.



 7:03 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

It definitely sounds like he crossed the line legally. I believe that inciting people to commit fraud/theft (whatever you want to call it) is a crime in itself. And being such a public figure, I would think (hope) that he's made an example of.

Chances are that he'll spin it politically (he's being persecuted by the Left) away from the legal issues (he's being punished because he broke the law).


 7:41 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

definitely sounds like

So far all we have is hearsay, which doesn't qualify as evidence.

We need some credible documentation here.

One video now published in several places doesn't contain anything that I recognized as inciting click fraud. However, the video makes it clear that he either has no clue how Google ads work, or if he does know he's twisting the truth for the sake of a more dramatic story.

Neither of those possibilities demonstrate much journalistic integrity ...

Ugh. Again.


 7:52 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I can't take it anymore. Where'd I leave my oxycodone?


 9:32 pm on Apr 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Not sure if you're seeing the video that my source was. Was it from today? The poster in the other forum basically said "I was just listening" and I think within minutes/a couple hours or less the ads were long gone.


 1:56 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

>It definitely sounds like he crossed the line legally.

Ummm, say what!? Since when is clicking on a link fraud? It certainly is not. Only if your intent is to defraud (boot a competitor so your ads scores higher) or make money (adsense fraud). Neither of which are true in this case. Because Googles rev model is built on a house of cards, does not mean it has any more protection under the law than anyone else. The cases of true "click fraud" are very rare indeed. The ones that are punishable under the law, are almost nonexistent.


 3:05 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

how can Google guard against that?

(if click_rate > super_high_number) {suspend_ad();}

Google can guard against whatever they want. Doesn't mean they'll invest the time and money to do so for unlikely scenarios.


 3:35 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Links are made to be clicked. No fraud in that. Some things go viral (hence much clicking) and one wonders how google can discount those as being legit or rate them as fraud. Repeating myself: Links are made to be clicked.


 8:00 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Tangor, links are indeed made to be clicked, but your dismissive logic doesn't fit so well in a case where every click is charged for and someone has sent squadrons of bad prospects whose primary effect is to run up someone else's expenses for no benefit.

Quite bluntly, based on the video I watched today, I think Mr. Limbaugh has such a faulty grasp of how Google advertising works that he ought to be keeping his mouth totally shut about it.

As a public commentator (I refuse to call him a journalist) he has a responsibility to get his facts straight ... but I get the impression he's not one to let mere facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory!

It puzzles me that the American public tolerates such sloppy thinking in public discourse.


 8:23 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

buckworks... Your argument is accepted, faulty as it might be. Links are links. If folks aren't supposed to click on them, they should not be there. :)

I, too, love conspiracy theories. Americans did not invent them, last time I looked, those seem to be everywhere, many places, and many times. My comment was that sometimes an interest occurs for a topic, and those with ads on those sites of interest might get the instant hit and (also) hit in the pocketbook. I didn't mention Limbaugh, I just asked how google can tell the difference.


 9:03 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

there was a similar story in the UK press last week when John Prescott (Labour MP) encouraged his blog readers to click Tory Party ads to drain their budget. A google spokesman was interviewed briefly on the news and said their system was robust enough to discount clicks like this, and he didn't seem bothered at all.

brotherhood of LAN

 9:15 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

clicks like this

Do they right click instead? :)

Would be interesting to understand how Google discounts clicks.


 3:37 pm on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Since when is clicking on a link fraud?

When the purpose of the clicks is to drain the advertiser's budget. Or when many people are incited to do that.

True, in a legal sense, it's pretty sketchy and it would probably be hard to make any charges stick.


 6:18 pm on Apr 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

True, in a legal sense, it's pretty sketchy and it would probably be hard to make any charges stick.

Which is why it's not 'fraud'. It's 'something you don't like'.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I am saying that nobody outside of this community is going to see this as anything much more than grassroots activism that's working.

It's really no more fraudulent that a fat man at an all you can eat buffet.


 6:40 pm on Apr 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

A better analogy might be Rush telling all his listeners who are fat to go visit a particular all-you-can eat restaurant to try to get them to run out of food. :)


 5:38 pm on Apr 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

Interesting . . Tortious interference? Theft by unlawful taking/disposition/dominion?

Someone inciting/encouraging/instructing others (their "loyal followers", their adherents?) to click on someone's PPC advertising campaign ads may fall four-square within a defined "theft crime" or it may be a case for new legislation.

the American public tolerates such sloppy thinking in public discourse

"The" suggests that this great country ;) is monolithic. If America is anything it's diverse. There's an orchard for growing every variety of fruit and nut, just like there's a marketplace for consumers of the same. :P


 5:55 pm on Apr 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

Consider whether a bowl of granola would be a better analogy ... full of fruits, nuts and flakes. :)

Okay, back on topic ...

I found this on good ol' Wikipedia:

Tortious interference with business relationships occurs where the tortfeasor acts to prevent the plaintiff from successfully establishing or maintaining business relationships.

Sabotaging someone else's ad campaigns would certainly qualify as that in my book.

Note that sabotaging someone else's ad campaigns would be a very different matter from out-competing them with better ads of your own.

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