Fake clicks through bots

Advertisers foot the bill of online fraud

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(CS) Advertisers are paying billions of dollars for ads that are not seen by real people but are clicked by so-called bots, a Luxembourg study has found.

Conducted by Oxford BioChronometrics, based in the Grand Duchy, the study found that up to 98 percent of clicks were fake, generated by automated programmes but nonetheless costing advertisers.

This result was detected after the tech company placed ads on Google, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn. The latter's advertising platform performed best, at an 88 percent fraudulent activity rate.

Google's ad network was the worst with 98 percent bot fraud. Yahoo and Facebook tied at 94 percent.

The malicious activity can be programmed, for example, to eat up the advertising budget of a competitor, CEO David Scheckel explained to wort.lu/en. Within minutes the purchased number of clicks can disappear without a real person having seen the advert, which is then no longer visible online.

Alternatively, people who profit from ads on their own sites can benefit from programming a bot that generates page impressions, increasing ad revenue.

Detecting human activity

While bot activity in the field of advertising has been researched in a number of other studies, the Luxembourg results far exceed previous estimates of fraudulent bot activity.

Researchers classified bot activity into six groups, from basic to highly advanced, “including one that we can only describe as humanoid,” a press release said.

The more advanced types of bots are more difficult to spot and are getting ahead of standard detection technology.

Oxford BioChronometrics itself offers a solution to the problem, Scheckel added, having developed software that can detect whether the click comes from a person or a bot. Only when the click is found to be human will the billing code load.

“There is a real desire in the industry to clean up the bots,” Scheckel commented, adding, however, that he believes not all industry players understand the scale of the problem.

From Oxford to Luxembourg

Oxford BioChronometrics began its life at Oxford University's Isis Software Incubator, before moving to Luxembourg last year.

The company specialises in behaviour-based user authentication, bot blocking and Digital Advertisement Protection Technology (DAPT).

Read more about Oxford BioChronometrics here and access the full study here.