Google Helps Lead Effort Against Automated Traffic From Data Centers

Google is helping to lead a new effort to reduce the amount of fraudulent traffic that emanates from data centers and produces artificial clicks on ads.

The collaborative initiative will rely on blacklists of known-bad IP addresses that Google and others maintain to help identify bots that are used in click fraud campaigns and other ways. Google officials said the company’s blacklist, along with those used by other participants in the effort, can help reduce fake clicks by a significant percentage.

The pilot program is being run by an ad-industry coalition called the Trustworthy Accountability Group, and includes several other companies, such as Dstillery, Facebook, Yahoo, and many others. Google officials said that illegitimate traffic from data centers is one of the more prevalent problems for online advertisers because it essentially robs them of some of the money they’ve spent on the ads. 

“When observing the traffic generated by the IP addresses in the newly shared blacklist, we found significantly distorted click metrics. In May of 2015 on DoubleClick Campaign Manager alone, we found the blacklist filtered 8.9% of all clicks. Without filtering these clicks from campaign metrics, advertiser click-through rates would have been incorrect and for some advertisers this error would have been very large,” Vegard Johansen, product manager for Google ad traffic quality, said in a blog post

The motivation for Google and many of the other participants in the program is clear: protecting their ad revenue. If advertisers using Google’s or Yahoo’s platforms feel that the traffic hitting their ads is fraudulent or poor quality, they’re not going to be very eager to continue buying ads. Google brings in more than $50 billion in ad revenue annually, something the company is quite keen on defending. Doing so means finding ways to separate legitimate and illegitimate traffic, which can come in many forms.

“UrlSpirit is just one example of software that some unscrupulous publishers have been using to collaboratively drive automated traffic to their websites. Participating publishers install the UrlSpirit application on Windows machines and they each submit up to three URLs through the application’s interface. Submitted URLs are then distributed to other installed instances of the application, where Internet Explorer is used to automatically visit the list of target URLs. Publishers who have not installed the application can also leverage the network of installations by paying a fee,” Johansen said in his post. 

“At the end of May more than 82% of the UrlSpirit installations were being run on machines in data centers.”

The TAG pilot program is just beginning, and the group said it plans to release a set of principles soon and will invite public comment on them. The goal is to have a final version of the tool released by the end of 2015.

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