Saturday

Yahoo Used In
Spyware Click-Fraud Scheme



Through its Overture pay-per-click search division, Yahoo has been found
facilitating fraudulent clíck activity generated by known spyware makers
including 180solutions, Intermix, and Direct Revenue. The Spyware -
Click-Fraud Connection -- and Yahoo's Role Revisited, (Apr. 4, 06), shows
how at least a dozen different spyware firms redirect Internet users
searches through their servers, inserting Overture ad links on unrelated
websites or with pop-ups triggered by those sites.


Ben Edelman is a researching PhD candidate at the Department of Economics
at
Harvard. In his follow up to a Sept. 5, 2005 paper, How Yahoo Funds
Spyware,
Edelman documents a web of relationships between Overture and,
"... a
startling number of notorious spyware programs."

A recent graduate of Harvard's Law School, Edelman lays out his argument
methodically, briefly explaining what constitutes click-fraud and ways in
which it happens. He also notes that Yahoo has tried to sever its
relationships with the offending firms, often unsuccessfully, as they
(spyware makers) continue to include Overture code in their spyware
programs. "When Yahoo terminates one fraudster, that fraudster's partners
find another way to continue operations."

A few paragraphs down, he notes, "After I highlighted these vendors in my
August report, it seems Yahoo attempted to terminate its relationships with
them. Yet 180 continued not just to show Yahoo ads, but also to perform
click-fraud, as documented." Eliminating spyware click-fraud is likened to a
game of Whack-a-Mole. When Yahoo moves to shut down one channel, another
is
immediately opened.

Edelman calls the methods outlined in his study, Spyware Syndicated PPC
Fraud. "Suppose X, the Yahoo partnër site, hires a spyware vendor to send
users to its site and to make it appear as if those users clicked X's Yahoo
ads. Then advertisers will pay Yahoo, and Yahoo will pay X, even though
users nevër actually clicked the ads."

Using four detailed case studies, conducted between Dec. 17, 2005 and Apr.
2, 2006, Edelman traces traffïc generated on test PCs known to be
contaminated with various spyware products. Using packet logs, screenshots,
images and video, Edelman effectively demonstrates how each of his
conclusions was drawn.

In one case, he shows a link inserted on a New York Times document anchored
to the word "prime minister". The link was placed by Qklinkserver and would
not appear on an uninfected PC. It was placed without permission from the
Times. When clicked, the link sent traffïc through Overture to a PPC
advertiser.

The study names, Intermix, 180Solutions, Nbcsearch, eXact, Ditto, Look2me,
Ad-w-a-r-e, Improvingyourlooks, Qklinkserver, Srch-results, Claria,
InfoSpace, SurfSideKick, TrafficEngine, HotBar and IBIS, as companies
directly involved in spyware click-fraud.

Edelman goes on to note, "Yahoo's problem results from bad partners within
its network." Because it distributes advertising to third parties who might
in turn syndicate those ads to others, Yahoo has no real control over how
its ad codes are used to generate clicks.

The problem of click-fraud is an ever-present danger in pay-per-click
advertising, one that troubles Google as well. David Utter at WebProNews
quotes Google CEO Eric Schmidt saying, "Believe me, as a computer scientist,
we have the ability to detect the invalid clicks before they reach
advertisers", juxtaposing the quote against the $90million settlement Google
reached in the Lanes Gift and Collectables class action.

Edelman closes his study with a realistic but stern warning. The problem is
not going to go away. In fact, it is likely to get worse. The market for
spyware vendors is drying up, mostly because consumers are aware of the
problem and corporate advertisers no longer want to be associated with it.
The spyware makers are increasingly turning to more complex systems,
including the money-rich PPC market, to find susceptible targets.

Spyware makers have long been known leaches on the Internet. Some, such as
Claria receive support from large venture capital firms such as US Venture
Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures. In some cases, they have become
parts of much largër companies, including some of the world's largest
advertising firms. For example, Intermix is a division of News Corp and owns
the social network MySpace.Com.

Now that several noted spyware makers have been shown to be involved with
click-fraud scams, Yahoo and Google should be moved to immediate action.
Aside from protecting the integrity of their PPC programs and maintaining
the trust of their advertisers, they must be aware that the New York
Attorney General's office is watching.

In a speech sponsored by TRUSTe and the International Association of Privacy
Professionals, Ken Dreifach, chief of the Internet bureau in the New York
State Attorney General's office, said that entities such as Google and Yahoo
can be held accountable for how their affiliates use their content.

In an article published by MediaPost, Shankar Gupta quoted Dreifach saying,
"You don't want to ever assume that the existence of intermediaries, whether
it's two or six, is going to immunize you from liability."

Jim Hedger

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