Click fraud is an increasing concern for online advertisers and the methods to tackle the problem are not always forthcoming. It would seem that there is an inconsistent consensus as to how to tackle click fraud and the status of this otherwise illegal activity is not always clear cut.
That said, there are examples of click fraud been brought before the law and successfully prosecuted against in recent years. On this basis, it can be argued that an increasing number of countries and their respective judicial systems are starting to identify the prevalence and illegality of click fraud.
But, before looking at examples of click fraud prosecutions it would be wise to actually define what click fraud is. By simply searching through various digital marketing industry definitions, click fraud is generally defined by this snippet:
“Click fraud is a form of cyber-crime. It occurs when someone clicks on your "pay per click" advertisement in order to cost you money, with no intention of doing business with you. Fraudulent clicks can be done by a person, automated script, online robot (bot), or computer program. Attempting to appear as a legitimate internet user, the false clicks are designed to create an artificially large number of clicks.”
In a nutshell, Click Fraud is essentially a deliberate attempt to increase the cost of running an advertising campaign or fabricate a false representation of ad performance.
Whilst the list of successful investigations isn’t necessarily large, there are a number of standout examples of perpetrators of click fraud been uncovered. Most recently, at the end of 2016, the digital advertising security agency White Ops uncovered a click fraud campaign instigated by a group known as ’Ad Fraud Komanda’, or ‘AFK13’, as they were otherwise known. This group of Russian criminals used a system of bots and automated programs to generate millions of dollars of revenue from purchasing ad space (which was mostly video or display advertising space) and automating user traffic which imitated human behaviour. The ad space generated by the program was in direct competition with large companies such as Vogue and ESPN. Unsurprisingly, the costs for these large companies was drastically increased, yet a large amount of the revenue generated was directed back to AFK13. Fortunately, White Ops was able to identify the behaviour of the bots and uncover the fraudulent actions before the operation could cause any more damage.
It may be easy to associate click fraud with larger companies and corporations, after all, they generate larger revenues and own more ad space. However, the occurrence of click fraud can be just as prevalent with smaller businesses or niches. Service industries such as locksmiths, drainage and home repair businesses are amongst the most targeted sectors, in other words, where there is fierce competition for a service, click fraud is never far away.
But, is click fraud illegal? Well, specifically, click fraud is only defined as an illegal act in California and therefore a legal case can be brought before a court of law. It is difficult for legal systems to define click fraud due to the automated and clandestine nature of the methods used. However, where manual (or human) activity can be traced, a form of prosecution can be presented to the judiciary. Historically, click fraud has not generated the same level of publicity as other forms of fraud but the trend is beginning to change and it is likely that more high-profile cases will be uncovered – especially as more effective anti-click fraud software is developed.
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