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5/13/2009
02:47 PM
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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 its partners are turning traffic that advertisers would have received for free into paid traffic and collecting the proceeds, claims Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, in a report.

"Google and its partners systematically inflate advertisers' conversion rates by interceding in transactions advertisers would otherwise have received for free," Edelman's report states. "This conversion-inflation syndication fraud overstates the true effectiveness of the ads Google delivers -- leading advertisers to pay more than they should."

Google's Chrome browser appears to be designed to encourage users to search -- for which Google may be paid -- rather than navigate directly.

Edelman observes that when a user starts to type the Web address "expedia.com" in Chrome's "Omnibox," which combines the URL address entry field with a search box, Chrome provides an auto-complete suggestion while the user is typing. If the suggestion is accepted, Chrome submits "expedia" for a Google search. This effectively terminates the user's attempt to complete the Web address "expedia.com" and involves Google in navigation unnecessarily.

In order to navigate directly to Expedia's Web site without conducting a Google search, users must ignore the Google Chrome suggestion and type out the complete URL.

"[B]y pushing default behavior from direct navigation to search, Google makes searches that much more frequent -- yielding that many more ad-clicks, that much more revenue to Google, and that much more expense for advertisers," the report says.

Other browsers behave similarly. Entering an unrecognized term in the Firefox address bar leads to a Google search for the term -- regardless of whether another search engine is selected in the browser search box -- rather than for the error page that's normally returned following an improperly formatted URL. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 does the same thing, though it replaces the error page with a search page generated by the user’s chosen search engine, if the Windows Live Search default has been replaced with a different search engine.

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