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Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Set Click-Fraud Guidelines

They hope to ease tensions between advertisers, Internet companies, and other organizations that count clicks to determine payment.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are among the members of an industry group that will set guidelines for identifying invalid or fraudulent clicks, a source of major problems with advertisers who complain Internet companies unfairly charge them, organizers said Wednesday.

The Click Measurement Working Group is a joint effort of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Media Rating Council. The group also includes Ask.com, which is owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp; LookSmart and others.

Currently, there is no industry-wide method used by Internet companies and advertisers to count clicks and identify invalid or fraudulent ones. As a result, numbers gathered by the two sides separately often differ, leading advertisers to complain that they've been overcharged.

By establishing guidelines, the IAB and MRC hopes to ease tensions between advertisers and Internet companies, such as search engines, ad networks, third-party ad servers or any other organization that counts clicks to determine payment.

"Agencies and marketers should feel assured that the interactive industry is striving for increased reliability and consistency through the guideline-setting process and through their support for audits," George Ivie, executive director and chief executive of the MRC, said in a statement.

The new working group is part of the IAB's broader Global Ad Impression Guidelines initiative that was launched in 2004.

The click-fraud problem has led to a number of commercial vendors offering analytical services. One such company, Click Forensics LLC, released in April a report that the average click-fraud rate for search engines was 14.1 percent in the second quarter.

The tension between search engines and advertisers has led to legal action. In March, Google reached a $90 million settlement in an Arkansas lawsuit filed by online gift company Lane's Gifts & Collectibles and Caulfield Investigations, a private investigation firm. The suit accused the search-engine giant of failing to reimburse advertisers for fraudulent clicks. The plaintiffs also sued Yahoo and America Online Inc., which is now called AOL.

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