Google Files Click-Fraud Suit

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Google filed its first fraud lawsuit against a Web publisher in its AdSense program, accusing Texas Web site operators of clicking their own ads to generate revenue at the expense of marketers.

The suit, filed in California Superior Court in Santa Clara in November, accuses Auction Experts International operators Sergio Morfin and Alexei Leonov of breaking the AdSense terms of service by clicking on paid listings running on their site. The complaint does not state how much money Auction Experts is alleged to have generated from the activity.

Google uses technology to detect click fraud, and it periodically credits advertiser accounts for clicks it deems to be fraudulent.

Fraudulent clicks are generated manually or by computer programs called click bots. Google's AdSense agreement prohibits both methods, as well as encouraging others to click on ads. Google's complaint does not state how the fraudulent clicks were generated.

Fraudulent clicks is a growing issue for Google and Yahoo as they expand their paid listings networks beyond major search engines. AdSense runs search and content listings on thousands of Web sites. Google does not report how many sites display its listings.

Google identified click fraud as a business risk in its initial public offering filing. It stated that failing to detect illegitimate clicks could result in a loss of advertiser confidence. Ad revenue accounted for 98 percent of Google's sales in the first three quarters of this year.

Search marketers disagree on the extent of the problem. Clicklab, a Miami company that sells click-fraud detection services, reports that for one client, 50 percent of clicks on competitive keywords were judged fraudulent. Other search marketers dismiss click fraud as a nuisance that is well policed by the major search engines but more of a problem for second- and third-tier paid search programs.

Google said it credited advertiser accounts for every click generated from Auction Experts' Web site after it discovered the alleged fraud.

"This lawsuit against Auction Experts demonstrates the success of our anti-fraud system and that we will take legal action when appropriate," Google spokesman Steve Langdon said.

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