Google Fights Click Fraud in Court

Google sues a former Web-site ad partner, accusing it of purposefully inflating clicks to gain more revenue from sponsored links.

Google Inc. is taking the fight against click fraud to court, suing a Houston-based company for allegedly clicking on sponsored links to fraudulently boost advertising revenues.

Google filed a lawsuit last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California against Auctions Expert International LLC. The search giant is accusing Auctions Expert of abusing the Google AdSense program, in which Web publishers display Googles pay-per-click ads and receive a share of the revenue.

Auctions Expert joined AdSense in August 2003, according to the lawsuit. Google later discovered the alleged misconduct, terminating the contract between the companies and refunding advertisers, Googles complaint states.

"These clicks were worthless to advertisers but generated significant and unjust revenue for Defendants who were paid by Google as if the clicks were legitimate," the lawsuit states.

Auctions Expert could not be contacted for comment, and its Web site was unavailable as of Monday evening.

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Google is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and restitution for the revenue-share payments it had made to Auctions Expert, according to the lawsuit.

Click fraud has become a growing problem in online advertisers, particularly as search-based and contextual ads have grown in prominence. Typical methods used to inflate click-through rates include site owners clicking sponsored link or hiring teams of people to repeatedly click ads. Automated computer software, called ClickBots, also can be used.

Google, in its lawsuit, did not state which method it suspects was used in the Auctions Expert case.

The issue also arose during the WebmasterWorld.com World Search Conference last week in Las Vegas. Some attendees asked the gathered search engines to more aggressively tackle the problem.

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Not only can click fraud lead advertisers to pay for fraudulent clicks, but competitors also can use the tactic in an attempt to game the auction-based model used to determine the positioning of ads in pay-per-click programs, search-engine marketers said during the conference.

"Its on everybodys radar screen in the industry, and it has been that way for some time," said Joe Laratro, vice president of technology and CTO at search-engine marketer MoreVisibility, in an interview during the WebmasterWorld.com show.

Google spokesman Steve Langdon said that the Mountain View, Calif., company uses fraud detection technology to combat click fraud and protect advertisers.

"This lawsuit against Auctions Expert demonstrates the success of our anti-fraud system and that we will take legal action when appropriate," he said in a statement.

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