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Click fraud suit changes hand

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Click Defense, a web analytics firm that intiated proceedings against Google in June, alleging that the search engine was failing to stop click fraud, is to be replaced as lead plaintiff in the suit by web hosting firm Advanced Internet Technology (AIT).

"We are only withdrawing as a representative plaintiff," said Scott Boyenger, Click Defense's Chief Executive Officer, "in order to concentrate our efforts in helping our clients develop their claims of click fraud. We remain a member of the class and our click fraud claims against Google will still be litigated when and if the class is certified."

The suit, which is seeking class action status, alleges that Google’s failure has cost users of its AdSense scheme at least $5m.

The AdSense system allows advertisers to display targeted ads on websites in return for the payment of a fee to Google each time an internet user clicks on one of their ads. Google then repays part of the fee to the web page owner. This is different to Google’s AdWords service, which allows advertisers to sponsor particular search terms so that, whenever that term is searched in Google, the advertiser’s link will appear next to the search results.

However, the AdSense scheme is open to abuse by website owners who, keen to boost the fees repaid to them by Google, try to ensure that the third party adverts displayed on their site are clicked as often as possible. As a result, the search engine’s AdSense program policy states:

“Any method that artificially generates clicks is strictly prohibited. These prohibited methods include but are not limited to: repeated manual clicks, incentives to click, using robots, automated clicking tools, or other deceptive software. Please note that clicking on your own ads for any reason is prohibited, to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs”.

This was not enough for Click Defense, which in June filed suit, alleging that Google refused to take steps to prevent click fraud, even though the company was well aware of the practice. But the firm has now withdrawn as representative plaintiff, handing the job over to AIT.

According to Clarence Briggs, AIT's Chief Executive Officer, AIT has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulent clicks even though Google has the capability to detect fraud.

"Google is able to block spamming efforts from its own Google Gmail service and should do the same to protect its pay-per-click advertising clients. However, Google chooses to do nothing because substantive action would both invalidate the current paid search model and because a lot of people are making a lot of money from this," he said.

"We have been watching this and documenting it for some time, not only for ourselves but for our customers from our network and several other networks," he added, "and we have the technical expertise to prove without a doubt that it is happening and that Google could do something about it if they wanted to.”

Google denies the allegations. In June a spokesman for the firm told Reuters that the company believes the lawsuit is without merit.

See also: Google sued for failing to prevent click fraud, OUT-LAW News, 01/07/2005

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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