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Adsense Fraud Protection

Was thinking about how they do it...

     
4:46 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Hi all,

I was lying back in my chair on the balcony outside my office, sunning myself, when I started to think about Adsense fraud protection. (Which we all have to admit is a major topic on this board). Now, as a theoretical exercise, I started building up a checklist of possible angles of how they try to detect fraud:

- IP checking. A last resort, given the many problems with this mechanism (Group IPs on ISPs, dynamic IPs, etc). Basically, it can be used for clustering.

- Cookies. Very useful, especially when dealing with the not-so-savvy webmaster. (The typical bean who clicks 25 times, then checks his CP to see how much he's earning type!)

- Statistical Clustering. Google probably has the largest collection of internet usage data in the world, and I bet that this is their first line of defence. I.e.: If searches on "Blue waterproof Widgets" has a spike, then it's logical to assume that adverts about "Blue waterproof Widgets" will also see a spike. On the other hand, if B.W.W.s search stay the same, but ONE SITE with adverts about B.W.W. starts spiking on CTR, then....

We can also assume the same modelling for traffic to that site. Has anybody reported being banned for click fraud shortly after starting an ad campaign on another network? Or favourable PR on a main site? And of course, the same for sudden click over a very localised period of time, several times a day. Basically, any non natural CTR spikes (I suppose that Google is able to recognise "typical" spikes that could be due to main stream press coverage, etc.) You get the picture.

But I think that the oft repeated mantra "low ctr sites have no leeway" is very true. So if the "statistical clustering" trigger is pulled on a site that makes $40 / month, what would Google do? Spend 10 man hours investigating, or press a button marked "STOP!"? :)

Anyway, anyone get any other tracking theories? Will have another think and see if I can come up with anything else! Love to hear about them! Oh, and before the criticism starts, let's remember that these are some "ANGLES" I came up with, not a project plan :)

P.S. Personal note to all those who complain "Google dropped me because I click on an ad because I only earnt $20 last month and wanted to boost my free money type people (You know who you are!): Just remember that it IS their program, and they CAN kick you out for no reason. It's Googles sitting room, and while you're there you abide by their rules!

5:13 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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For quite some time I have been considering adding some pages about various attractions in my local area. These are popular attractions which draw visitors from all over.

Here's the problem: This area is a relatively small town that is served primarily by one large (but local) ISP. It stands to reason that a large number of locals would visit these pages because the name of the town would come up in searches.

My question: Would lots of users on the same local ISP clicking my AdSense ads cause a problem?

5:16 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Not under the "statistical clustering" model, since you would have a local site, with normal traffic parameters for that type of thing.

Course, nothing is written in stone.

5:46 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Would lots of users on the same local ISP clicking my AdSense ads cause a problem?

I have avoided putting AdSense on two of my sites for the same reason. One site covers the local area. The other covers a topic that I do training on, and I am concerned that statistically a large portion of the people visiting the site will be local and using the same ISP that I use.

I've decided that if I do decide to put AdSense on these sites, that the best approach would be to email Google first for approval. Although we have very knowledgeable people participating in this forum, I wouldn't want to risk my AdSense revenues with a third party opinion.

7:40 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Sanenet,

to what end do you want to have this discussion?

Shouldn't you have a vested interest in this not being discussed?

Do you 'chat' with strangers in the ATM vestibule on the possible ways someone might get your pin and empty you account?

!

7:51 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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nyet,

If I thought the bank would close my account without giving me the interest I've earned should my pin be stolen by somebody, I would indeed want to know how they might do it so I could arm myself. Forewarned is forearmed.

7:57 pm on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

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nyet:

Actually, I think Sanenet done a pretty good job of showing wannabe fraudsters that Google is probably cleverer than they think. :-)

12:37 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I'm so paranoid I never even click on adsense ads located on other people's web sites. I don't want my IP associated in any way with Adsense. Overly paranoid you say? Just goes to show how Google has us all sitting on pins and needles.
2:27 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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"I'm so paranoid I never even click on adsense ads located on other people's web sites. I don't want my IP associated in any way with Adsense. Overly paranoid you say? Just goes to show how Google has us all sitting on pins and needles."

True that. Same here... Pure paranoļa

4:10 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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A lot of people who share my IP are likely to click on some of my ads. Unfortunately, I don't have any way to stop that. It's too bad I can't voluntarily exclude my IP from my AdSense revenue. This would be good for advertisers, as well as publishers.

I'd like to think that Google has a sophisticated algo that pinpoints fraudulent clicks accurately, but I'm a little skeptical. The fact that they can't even target their own ads indicates that they have a way to go before achieving perfection.

6:19 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Fraud detection on adsense is trivial. - if you send traffic that doesn't convert, you're a fraud.
6:39 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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a little harsh, doncha think?

It is hardly the responsibility of the publisher to guarantee a conversion.

8:46 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I don't think the publisher should be responsible for conversions. It's up to the advertiser to create a compelling ad and Google to display it on appropriate pages.

What's the publisher got to do with conversion rates? If I have a page about Palm Springs and Google displays sloppy ads about palm pilots, is it my fault that they don't convert well?

9:04 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I'd like to think that Google has a sophisticated algo that pinpoints fraudulent clicks accurately, but I'm a little skeptical. The fact that they can't even target their own ads indicates that they have a way to go before achieving perfection.

Ad targeting and fraud detection are completely different processes, so it's a mistake to draw conclusions about one from the other.

10:27 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Europeforvisitors, you are, of course, correct. My point is, though, that I have seen no evidence that Google's fraud detection techniques are perfect. I think it is likely that some people who claim to be falsely accused of fraudulent clicking might actually be innocent. If this is the case, Google is wrong to withhold payment of their previously earned money. I wonder if this money is kept by Google, or returned to the advertisers.

BTW, I hope I don't sound too negative. I think AdSense is a terrific program, or at least will be when the bugs are worked out.
10:39 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I have seen no evidence that Google's fraud detection techniques are perfect.

You expect it to be perfect? An unreasonable expectation.

also you agreed to this:

"Google may at any time, in its sole discretion, terminate the Program, terminate this Agreement, or suspend or terminate the participation of any Site in the Program for any reason.

...

Google shall not be liable for any payment based on (a) any fraudulent impressions generated by any person, bot, automated program or similar device or for fraudulent clicks similarly generated on any Ads, as reasonably determined by Google"

How else can it be? Notwithstanding the fact that you agreed to these terms, it is not like you are out a lot of capital expense for running the ads....

11:54 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

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They compare the conversion rate against other websites. Yes it's up to the advertiser to convert, but it's up to the publisher to convert as well as the average publisher.
12:16 am on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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blaze,

If someone buys advertising space on my site, I do everything possible to help them convert by designing an attractive format with good positioning, etc.

I'd also like to help AdSense advertisers but I'm not sure how to do this. Can you offer any practical tips to help AdSense publishers improve the conversion rate for their advertisers?

12:27 am on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I think it is likely that some people who claim to be falsely accused of fraudulent clicking might actually be innocent. If this is the case, Google is wrong to withhold payment of their previously earned money.

Sure, it's likely that some are innocent. But we don't know that payment is always withheld. I'd guess that, in cases where guilt isn't obvious, expelled publishers are paid the monies due them after the invalid clicks have been deducted. (We haven't seen a flood of complaints by ex-AdSense publishers who haven't gotten paid, and in any case, such complaints would be meaningful only if we knew that all expelled publishers were stiffed by Google.)

12:32 am on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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nyet,

I'm not trying to get into an argument about technicalities. I'm just pointing out the well known fact that AdSense has been acting a little senile lately, and some (innocent) people might have a right to be upset if they are informed that their paychecks have been retroactively garnisheed.

1:25 am on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I'm just pointing out the well known fact that AdSense has been acting a little senile lately, and some (innocent) people might have a right to be upset if they are informed that their paychecks have been retroactively garnisheed.

That's a big "if." Innocent people may well have had their accounts cancelled for invalid clicks that were beyond their control, but it doesn't follow that Google will keep their checks in every case. As I suggested earlier, if that were Google's standard operating procedure, I'm sure we'd see a lot of "AdSense kept my final payment" posts on this forum.

3:28 pm on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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What I'd like to see is that Google doesn't drop you if they detect fraudulent clicks, they just lower your EPC .. but I guess they need to scare off people who are thinking "why not try, it can't hurt attitude".

It's a pain of course, cause I still haven't figured out how Google stops a competitor from getting you kicked off AdSense..

4:43 pm on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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What I'd like to see is that Google doesn't drop you if they detect fraudulent clicks, they just lower your EPC .. but I guess they need to scare off people who are thinking "why not try, it can't hurt attitude".

Exactly. It's like having penalties for blatant spamming of the Google search index: If there's no downside, some people are going to try.

It's a pain of course, cause I still haven't figured out how Google stops a competitor from getting you kicked off AdSense..

I'd guess that Google has a formula or a step-by-step flow chart that takes multiple factors into account. Once fraudulent clicks are detected, Google might look at factors such as:

"Are invalid clicks an ongoing problem with this site?"

"Is there anything else shady or questionable about this site?"

"Does the site appear to have been created solely to exploit AdSense, or does it have intrinsic value to users?"

"Are we making enough revenue from the site to justify investigating where the fraudulent clicks are (or aren't) coming from?"

It's important to remember that the question of guilt or innocence may be only one factor in deciding whether to close a publisher's account. The question of whether the site is profitable for Google may be just as important.

5:34 pm on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Black hat SEO could be a factor as well. I believe that it is against TOS to perform black hat SEO on an AdSense site..
6:09 pm on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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EFV,

I bet the last entry on your flow chart is actually the first on theirs!

8:55 pm on Apr 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Blaze, your comment about "black hat SEO" is a good reminder. I just checked the AdSense Program Policies, which specifically forbid "deceptive or manipulative content or construction to improve your site's search engine ranking, e.g., your site's PageRank."
 

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