Google and Click Fraud: ClickForensics CEO Fires Back


An argument between Google and click-stream auditing firm ClickForensics about the level of click fraud on Google is getting increasingly heated. 

Last week, Forbes published an interview with Google click-fraud czar Shuman Ghosemajumder, in which Ghosemajumder said, in effect, firms like ClickForensics have no idea what they’re talking about.  This week, the fair and balanced Forbes interviewed Tom Cuthbert, CEO of ClickForensics, who responded in equally vehement fashion.  Forbes’ Andy Greenberg knows a lot about this issue, so his questions are smart:

Forbes: You say that click fraud is increasing, while Google’s Shuman Ghosemajumder says that click fraud is under control. Are you accusing Google of hiding the extent of the problem?

Cuthbert: You’ll notice in your Q&A with Shuman that he doesn’t actually answer the question of whether click fraud is getting worse. That’s because he knows from Google’s own data that the problem of click fraud is getting worse and will continue to get worse.

Are your estimates inflated by “fictitious clicks”–clicks that Google doesn’t count?

…All of our data is also based on Google Click ID, and Shuman knows that. He may be correct about other auditors in this space, but what he’s said and the way he said it is misleading…

How do you handle “click-backs,” situations in which a user reloads an advertisement’s landing page? Do you and other auditors count the page’s reloading as another click on the ad? [a Ghosemajumder assertion]

Absolutely not. Using Google Click ID prevents us from counting click-backs, and even when we have analysed the number of click-backs compared to the overall problem of click fraud, it’s a very small percentage. Regardless, using Click IDs and other methodologies means there are no fictitious clicks in our data.

If I sound somewhat aggravated, it’s because I am. Shuman knows very well that we use Google Click ID. But he has a tendency to talk about fictitious clicks and then bring up our name to try to link us with that, even though he knows it’s not true. We’re a bit frustrated with that.

Lots more where that came from. For what it’s worth, we’ve spent time with Cuthbert and find him and ClickForensics’ methodology very credible.  We also thought Ghosemajumder’s decision to start talking about click fraud more openly was an intelligent one.  As to the substance of the arguments, we believe there is merit to both.  And here’s our take on the click fraud issue:

  • It’s getting worse.
  • It is more prevalent and more of a concern on third-party ad networks (distributed search/Adsense for content) than on Google’s own sponsored search.
  • It’s especially bad news for content providers who make a living using AdSense, et al.
  • It is something advertisers should pay attention to and spend money analysing
  • If nothing else, the use of a good third-party auditing firm provides comfort that money isn’t being thrown away.
  • Google et al could/should consider providing more detail about, at the very least, the number of total clicks vs. the number of clicks the advertiser was charged for.