Trust Me, I'm A Jedi Scientist -- Those Aren't The Fraudulent Clicks You Were Looking For

Nice catch by Threadwatch, Click fraud concerns bruise Google from Bloomberg, where Google CEO Eric Schmidt is quoted saying to trust him, as a computer scientist, Google can stop those bad clicks:

Believe me, as a computer scientist, we have the ability to detect the invalid clicks before they reach advertisers.

Then again, Google's about to settle a click fraud class action suit for $90 million. I'd agree with the Google view that the sum is much smaller than some would estimate click fraud to be. But it's still a large amount, and one that suggests Google's click fraud kryptonite isn't as foolproof at Schmidt suggests.

In fact, the quote needs a big heaping dose of perspective:

  • Google (and Yahoo and others) already have lots of click fraud detection in place and do indeed catch a lot of fraudulent clicks.
  • Google (and Yahoo and others) don't catch everything, whether they have computer scientists on staff or one actually running the company.

Indeed, if Google's system was perfect, they wouldn't need to have any appeal or review period at all. They do. In fact, they flat out open the possibility they won't catch everything:

If we find that invalid clicks have escaped automatic detection, you'll receive a credit for those clicks.

Again, Google's view is only a small amount might escape their review process, as it blogged recently. But that same post -- unlike Schmidt's comment -- also admits that some invalid clicks do indeed reach advertisers:

When we believe those clicks are invalid, we reimburse advertisers for them. Some invalid clicks do make it through our filters, but we believe the amount is very small.

Schmidt might have had other comments going along with his quote, of course. He might have qualified it in some way that didn't make it to the story. But to me, the answer isn't that Google gets perfect in stopping all invalid clicks before billing. The answer is keeping the amount as low as possible and actively working with advertisers and third parties to ensure there's better defense and support for even that small amount that will inevitably get through.