The ad industry suffers from runaway fake clicks by human-impersonating ‘bots. This startup wants to catch them.
So you’ve launched your product, you’ve got a web site and a Facebook page and you’ve finally ponied up cash for advertising to promote it.
It’s amazing! The clicks start pouring in. You’re definitely feeling the love. True, a lot of your newfound fans are in Africa, where they can’t actually buy your product. But still, isn’t it great that people are interested?
Then someone breaks it to you.
Some—well, actually–a lot of your fans are robots.
According to the Wall Street Journal, about 36 percent of web traffic is fake, coming from computers hijacked by viruses and programmed to click on ads or visit Facebook pages.
Now a Hungarian startup, Enbrite.ly, has just received 500,000 Euros in funding to catch this fake traffic. Often, if an advertiser can prove to an advertising network that a certain number of clicks were fake, they won’t be charged.
Enbrite.ly won the investment at a pitching contest at the Slush startup event in Helsinki last month. Their pitch, which beat out 99 others, was persuasive said the judges, and it helped that they also had a working product with customers.
The money came from the Finnish Business Angels Network (FiBAN) and Evli Pankki.
Why are there fake clicks?
Basically, because there’s money to be made. If you’re paying a web site per click on your ad, there is a monetary incentive for the number of clicks to increase, whether by human or robotic means. If you pay Facebook per click, there is an incentive for your unscrupulous competitor to increase the number of fake clicks on your ad—because that costs you money without any subsequent benefit. And so on and so on. You can have a field day figuring out who potentially benefits and why, but the incentives definitely exist.
For instance, Facebook has admitted that somewhere between 5.5 – 11.2 percent of their accounts are fake. The social network is probably not hurt by click fraud in the short term, but in the long term it might be, if advertisers began to lose trust in the authenticity of its likes.
Some of these fraudsters build web sites with lots of fake visitors and collect money from advertising middlemen, says the Wall Street Journal. They operate from places like Eastern Europe, according to the report.
Enbrite.ly works by harnessing big data to recognize patterns in web site visitor behavior. Humans and robots behave differently online, and Enbrite.ly ferrets out the non-human actors. Although this doesn’t seem like it would be very hard (after all robots probably don’t spend much time on a page or bother to read or look at photos) over time, robots have gotten better at outsmarting algorithms meant to catch them. In response, the algorithms have had to get smarter too, and so on and so on in what can be viewed as a ‘bot-human arms race.
At least there’s no bloodshed.
Watch his winning pitch here: