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Google Defrauds Advertisers, Report Claims

A Harvard professor says that Google -- aided by its Chrome browser -- is turning traffic that advertisers would have received for free into paid traffic.

Google and others have justified their decision to override error pages as a way to improve the user experience.

Edelman notes that other browsers behave similarly to Chrome, but he insists that Chrome is pushier at encouraging searches in lieu of direct navigation. He's also critical of Chrome for including nonfunctional results in the list of links generated through auto-completion. The inclusion of these nonworking links, he claims, discourages users from exploring direct links.

Mark Simon, VP of industry relations at search marketing company Didit, observes that Google and other search engines straddle a difficult fence. "On the one hand, their business depends on providing universal access to information and collecting revenue along the way," he said in an e-mail. "On the other hand, it isn't helpful when the engines and their networks insert themselves -- or are inserted -- into the equation unnecessarily. In a system as complicated as a huge ad network, inefficiencies will always arise. The lesson for advertisers is to find a partner capable of compensating for those inefficiencies and providing the means to pull ahead."

Edelman's report is also critical of Google's willingness to profit from typosquatting and of its acceptance of the dubious advertising practices of WhenU and IAC.

Edelman estimates that more than 75% of typosquatting sites that show pay-per-click ads are monetized through Google. By supporting typosquatting, Google again interposes itself in the navigation processes and creates an opportunity to be paid where one wouldn't ordinarily exist.

"Had it not been for the typosquatter, the user would have received a standard browser page identifying the typo and, in general, referring the user to the requested site without charge," the report states.

With regard to WhenU, Edelman's complaint is similar: He claims that WhenU and partners use pop-up ads to charge advertisers for traffic from visitors already on advertisers' sites and that Google passes these clicks through its ad platform as if they were legitimate leads. He says that IAC's SmileyCentral toolbars, with support from Google, also charge advertisers for traffic they would otherwise have received for free.

Google, uncharacteristically, did not respond to a request for comment.

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This article was edited on 5/14 to clarify properties of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

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