Google grabs Spider.io to combat ad fraud

Spider.io will help fight click fraud. But if Google is really serious about cleaning up online ads, it might want to follow the money

There are typically two ways to solve a technology problem: devise a solution yourself or find someone who's working on the problem and buy their expertise.

Looks like Google has taken the second path to advance its fight against online advertising fraud; it's bought London-based cyber security outfit Spider.io, which has made a mission out of combating click theft.

The details right now are slender, gleaned mostly by way of a post on Google's DoubleClick Advertiser Blog that described how the short-term mission is "to include [Spider.io's] fraud detection technology in our video and display ads products, where they will complement our existing efforts."

Based on other wording in the post, Spider.io's tech is intended to complement other changes Google has made to its ad systems -- such as, Active View, "which lets advertisers buy only those ads that are viewable on a page," and more aggressively removing bad ads from its system.

"Over the long term," the post says, "our goal is to improve the metrics that advertisers and publishers use to determine the value of digital media ... Also, by including spider.io's fraud fighting expertise in our products, we can scale our efforts to weed out bad actors and improve the entire digital ecosystem."

The most widespread problem with ad fraud is click spoofing -- using bots, or even human dupes, to generate fraudulent clicks on ads. The end result is money milked from advertisers' pockets and into Google's, all for ad impressions that never actually were seen -- which ostensibly bothers Google a lot less than it does advertisers. But Google still has good reason to worry about ad fraud, since its entire business model depends on advertising (as ZDNet's Ed Bott has pointed out time and again).

Google and third-party monitors of click fraud have locked horns over the extent of the problem and the question of whether Google's or other parties' methodologies provide more accurate measures of the problem. The fight has escalated to a legal battle more than once; in 2006, Google settled a major class-action click-fraud lawsuit to the tune of $90 million, with the terms of the settlement largely in Google's favor.

But one of Google's blackest eyes in online advertising came not from click fraud but from Google's own amazingly bad judgment in selling ad space to Canadian pharmacies that were hawking prescription drugs to U.S. citizens. While Google apparently knew back in 2003 that these cross-border shipments of pharmaceuticals were illegal, it didn't change its policies on such ad sales until 2009 -- six years later, and only after it learned the Department of Justice was already on its tail. Small wonder the DOJ fined Google half a billion dollars.

The tangled web of where online ad money comes from makes it easy for even the most honest gatekeepers to be duped into funding piracy or cyber crime. (That last link leads to a discussion of the issue by none other than Douglas de Jager, CEO of Spider.io.) If Google wants to really do something about the problem of ad fraud, better technology won't hurt, but it would be even better to follow more of where its own money comes from -- if it dares.

This story, "Google grabs Spider.io to combat ad fraud," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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