Facebook spars with advertiser over click fraud allegation

Facebook said it can detect click fraud despite a company's claim that 80 percent of its ad clicks were generated by bots

Facebook said Monday it has defenses in place to detect click fraud despite one company's claim it detected suspicious clicks on its advertisements billed to it by the social-networking site.

Limited Run, a company based in Manorville, New York, wrote on Monday that it was deleting its Facebook page within a couple of weeks after it determined 80 percent of the clicks may be fraudulent.

The accusation is problematic for Facebook, which is already coping with high expectations from Wall Street following its IPO over the potential revenue the site could generate from online advertising.

Limited Run, which provides a platform for selling digital music and physical items, wrote that it noticed only about 20 percent of the clicks it was paying for lead people to its website. The company said it tried several analytics services and still could not verify more than 15 to 20 percent of the clicks.

It then built its own customized analytics software and said it came up with the same result. For the 80 percent of questionable clicks, Limited Run found that JavaScript was not turned on in those web browsers attributed to the click.

Limited Run said that is suspicious since in its experience, only about 1 to 2 percent of its site visitors usually have JavaScript turned off.

"If the person clicking the ad doesn't have JavaScript, it's very difficult for an analytics service to verify the click," the company wrote.

It concluded that the clicks were coming from "bots," or automated programs engineered to fraudulently click on ads, driving up the amount of money it had to pay Facebook for the advertisements. The company didn't blame Facebook for intentionally trying to drive up advertising revenue and said it didn't know the source of the bots.

"We tried contacting Facebook about this," Limited Run wrote. "Unfortunately, they wouldn't reply. Do we know who the bots belong too? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue? No. Is it strange? Yes."

Facebook said in an email it was investigating the claims and noted that it has defenses in place for such kind of fraud. A fake click, it said, would come from a fake account, which would be disabled immediately upon discovery.

The company said it has "systems in place that attempt to detect and filter certain click activity, including repetitive clicks from a single user, clicks that appear to be from an automated program or bot, or clicks that are otherwise abusive."

"Our systems also look at whether JavaScript is enabled in the browser," Facebook said. "According to our recent data, nearly all billable clicks resulting from desktop web browsers have JavaScript enabled."

Limited Run officials could not be immediately reached for comment. In a separate dispute, Limited Run said Facebook was not allowing the company to change its name on its page unless it paid money. Facebook attributed the issue to a miscommunication and said it was working to resolve it.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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Jeremy Kirk

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