Is the business end of your company advertising on the Internet? Actually, that’s a ludicrous question—just about everybody advertises on the Internet in some form these days. So that means everyone, from members the business sector to their legal allies, should watch out. Some scammers have figured out a way to inflate pageviews, meaning companies are paying to reach eyeballs that don’t actually exist.
Instead, thousands of websites are relying on “bots” to drive up numbers artificially. Bots are computer-generated visitors that look like humans surfing the Internet. In some cases, these bots account for the vast majority of visits to a website. The site operators then turn over these inflated numbers to advertising middlemen or clients, looking for advertising dollars.
Some web-security companies, such as a firm named White Ops, help companies identify and blackball these fraudulent websites. According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), this trend is likely to continue as long as the fraudsters see an opportunity.
Zipcar is one company that has retained White Ops’ services for recent ad campaigns. “When you walk into this world, you walk with eyes wide open,” said Brian Harrington, chief marketing officer at Zipcar, told the WSJ. “You know stuff is not real.”
Often, companies do not see the money they shell out to fraudulent companies returned. The government occasionally cracks down on the fraud—Operation “Ghost Click” from early 2013 led to two Estonian men pleading guilty in New York to hijacking four million computers and earning $14 million for a group of seven—but more sites usually pop up in their place. Security company Solve Media Inc. told the WSJ that they estimate $10 billion in advertising dollars will be lost to bot-infested sites in 2013.
As companies increasingly turn to technology-based solutions for marketing, a whole different set of risks emerges. For legal counsel, the best advice for now is to simply be wary of these bots and to warn marketers of their existence. According to Arthur Muldoon, co-founder and chief executive of the media-buying firm Accordant Media, automation within the marketing industry has “enabled greater buying efficiencies and controls, but also made it easier for the bad guys.”