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4/4/2006
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Report: Yahoo May Gain From Adware Click Fraud

The report from a Harvard researcher traces what appears to be click fraud that starts with the adware vendor and eventually leads to Yahoo. In between are online marketing companies that sell advertising.

Edelman lists four examples in his report. The adware vendors are 180solutions, Look2me/ Ad-w-a-r-e and Qklinkserver.com/Srch-results.com. Advertisers listed in the trails between Yahoo and adware vendors include Intermix Sirsearch, Searchdistribution.net, Improvingyourlooks.com, Ditto.com, Nbcsearch and ExactSearch.

180solutions denied any wrongdoing, saying that people receiving its advertising opt-in to the service in order to receive premium content at no charge.

"At no time are clicks 'faked' - the user is simply sent advertising based on keywords from his/her browser session," the company said in a statement. "180solutions is committed to working diligently with all advertising partners to ensure they are in compliance with codes of conduct and best practices.

"Additionally, any third party provider that we work with is required to provide documentation that they have the right to redistribute listings through our network."

Being linked in a chain does not indicate any wrongdoing on the part of an organization, since advertising displayed in adware can be several companies removed from the original seller. Yahoo, therefore, may not know that its pay-per-click ad is showing up on adware.

Nevertheless, the portal's syndicated ads have become a favorite among adware vendors, who are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their services directly to advertisers, Edelman said.

"Yahoo has become the advertiser of last resort for spyware vendors," said Edelman, who defines spyware as any software that tracks a person's Web travels without permission.

Edelman reported in August that Yahoo ads had appeared in adware, prompting the portal to cancel distribution contracts with some vendors, the researcher said. Despite those steps, Yahoo needs to get more aggressive, because vendors delivering adware are now hiding in complex advertising channels such as pay per click.

"Yahoo cannot expect these fraudulent techniques to disappear," the researcher said.

Yahoo in November joined other Internet heavyweights, including America Online, in backing a plan to certify software as adware and spyware free. Dubbed the Truste Download Program, it's essentially a white list of software that meets a number of criteria. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Truste administers the program.

Edelman, however, recommeds that Yahoo goes beyond Truste and limit its exposure to potentially bad practices by prohibiting partners from re-syndicating ads, or implementing more aggressive testing methods to find abuse.

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