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Brief: Google Report Criticizes Click-Fraud Audits

The report contends auditors inflate the size of the problem. But Google shows it's taking the issue seriously.

Google says click-fraud auditing firms can't count.

The company put out a report last week, available on its Web site, claiming third-party auditing companies report fictitious clicks--clicks it says were never made on Google AdWords ads--in their audits, inflating estimates of click fraud's cost to advertisers.

Click fraud--phony clicks to drive up a site's revenue, rather than to look for a product--has become a serious issue for ad-driven Web sites, despite past efforts to downplay it. Internet companies are trying to get ahead of the problem.

One way is to address it head-on. The Internet Advertising Bureau last week said it's forming a Click Measurement Working Group to set guidelines for measuring clicks on Web ads. Participants include, Google, LookSmart, Microsoft, and Yahoo. A week earlier, Google introduced an "invalid clicks" reporting tool to give advertisers better data.

The industry also is trying to minimize the perceived size of the problem. "We've seen media reports and data from consultants that didn't make any sense," says Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google's business product manager for trust and safety. Google wants auditors to change their accounting and advertisers to know they may get "distorted data." The Google report doesn't accuse click fraud auditors of deliberate wrongdoing but says auditors didn't do basic checking that would've revealed discrepancies.

Click Forensics, one of the firms singled out, has said roughly 14% of clicks overall are fraudulent, and CEO Tom Cuthbert stands by his firm's numbers. Google says that's inflated, but Ghosemajumder declines to provide a more accurate figure.

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