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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Here's a tricky question.

I just heard on NPR's Marketplace that Google settled a lawsuit involving click-throughs on GoogleAds. For those of you not in the know, advertisers pay for ads on Google and Yahoo on a per clickthrough basis - every time someone clicks on an ad on Google, the advertiser has to pay Google a certain amount. Apparently a group of advertisers were able to show that some end-users were clicking and clicking on ads with no intention to buy, causing the company to pay for useless clickthroughs. The advertisers alleged that the search engines might either have had something to do with this, or were covering up the extent of the problem.

So here's my question - imagine I'm a regular netizen with no affiliation with Google other than an undying love of the company, and I see a GoogleAd for a company I despise, like, say, Wal-Mart or some right-wing 527. I know that every time I click on that advertisement, the hated company will have to pay Google money. Am I engaging in some kind of fraud if I click on that ad?

What if I am a Google stockholder who does the same thing?

What if I am someone with a grudge against the advertiser, like a disgruntled employee?

I don't do it so much with GoogleAds, but occasionally when I see an advertisement for something horrible on a website that I enjoy, I'll click on the link for no reason other than to support that website. In fact, I never click on banner ads for any other reason. I don't do it obsessively (a method which apparently tipped these advertisers off) or use automatic refreshers or anything. I just click, once, to redistribute a little wealth and force a business who deserves to pay to, well, pay.

Matt points out that Google in all likelihood settled (for $90 million) because the outcome any way would have been bad for them - even if it had been shown that Google weren't to blame for the click fraud, advertisers would have been less likely to buy ads as a result.
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