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5/5/2006
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Credibility Search

Click fraud is the problem that just won't go away for search engines. A class-action lawsuit filed against Yahoo and unnamed affiliate companies in New Jersey last week charges that the search portal turned a blind eye to abuse of its advertising system and knowingly relied upon spyware to pad its profits.

Yahoo is also a defendant in a 2005 click fraud suit in Arkansas. Google, a co-defendant in that suit, is seeking the judge's approval of a $90 million settlement. That decision is expected in July. But Google still has to deal with a click fraud suit brought by Advanced Internet Technologies in California.

Search engine companies dismiss click fraud as a nonissue--but won't let anyone audit their data. Advertising service companies decry it as they sell auditing services to frightened marketers. Something has to give.

Search engines do look for what they call invalid clicks and don't bill for them. But chances are they'll need to go further, opening up enough to let a neutral third party verify that clicks are worth paying for. Right now, a good number of them aren't, and that's costing the search engines credibility.

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