Click fraud is the modern day equivalent of helping yourself to your neighbor’s electrical connection, albeit with less risk of death by electrical shock… for now. However, just because this sophisticated form of Internet trickery is not deadly, this does not mean that it is not malicious. Click fraud is the falsification of clicks on paid advertisements on search engines in which the creator of the fake clicks skims a portion of the advertiser’s budget for themselves. These fake clicks blow through the advertiser’s budget with the aid of an automated script or computer program that imitates a legitimate internet user clicking on an ad.
There is no story more interesting or peculiar than that of Michael Anthony Bradley, a self described computer programmer from Oak Park, CA. In the spring of 2004, Bradley approached Google engineers claiming that he had uncovered a serious security flaw in their paid search ad mechanism that left them as a proverbial sitting duck in a pond of sharks. Bradley, a sort of veteran of the paid search industry, having worked for various other PPC firms in the past, claimed that he had come across the flaw while developing technology for other companies.
His plan of action for tackling this breach was inspired to say the least. Bradley created a program called Google Clique that exploited this unapparent loophole in Google’s PPC network. Google Clique was able to facilitate click fraud and was so sneaky that Bradley claimed it was impossible for Google to detect that anything was wrong. Now comes the interesting part in the Bradley/ Google saga. At the same time he notified Google of the flaw and expressed interest in working with the search giant to utilize his technology as a means to make AdWords less susceptible to click fraud, he was approached by spammers who offered him $500,000 for Google Clique. So, Bradley did what anyone in a seemingly foolproof situation would do, he tried to have the best of both worlds. When Bradley arrived at the Google Offices in Mountain View, CA he told Google’s engineers about the half a million dollar offer from the spammers and said that he would sell his program to them for $100,000 while seemingly making the internet a safer place for advertisers large and small. If Google did not accept the deal, then it was off to the races for Google Clique. Bradley, you see, wanted to have his cake and eat it too.
History and paternal wisdom teaches us that in many instances, having the best of both worlds is just too good to be true. Michael Anthony Bradley learned this lesson the hard way. After his initial meeting with Google, Bradley was invited back to the company’s headquarters to commence with a second round of negotiations and hopefully return home with another six figures to his name. That is not what happened. After some heated negotiations with Google executives, Bradley was surprised to find out that he was in fact not dealing with Google at all, but instead was being arrested by undercover Secret Service agents who were charging him with extortion and mail fraud, charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges were eventually dropped, but Bradley’s story serves as a stern warning to anyone thinking of skimming something off the top of the paid search industry. In conclusion, don’t try to have your cake and eat it too, and happy Click Fraud Week from all of us here at Trada!