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How Fixing Broken Windows Can Decrease Click Fraud

There is a theory in law enforcement that goes something like this: If someone breaks a window in a building, and it isn't fixed quickly, others will soon be broken. As the evidence of neglect builds, vandals will be more emboldened to break into the building and commit more vandalism and eventually destroy it completely. If, on the other hand, that window is promptly fixed, it discourages further crime because it is clear that someone is watching the store. Further, if instead of just fixing the window, you find the vandal and hold them accountable for it, a message goes out loud and clear: we're watching and you will get caught. The problem with the broken windows theory is that it requires more than police action to put into practice. If the community isn't involved in the cleanup effort, the initiative fails. When the community is drawn in to help police the problems, to report them and to 'mind the store', so to speak, crime rates drop. This theory can be extended to police nearly any venue where there is unacceptable behavior - including the problem of click fraud in the venue of PPC advertising. At the moment, the PPC industry is like a vacant building with nobody watching the store. It's easy to enter fraudulent clicks. It's even easier to get away with it. At the moment, a large percentage of advertisers leave the detection of fraudulent clicks up to the PPC provider - and the policy of most PPC providers is that they will provide refunds for proven click fraud upon request from the advertiser. What happens when: - The PPC provider's software detection methods don't catch the click fraud? - The advertiser doesn't use fraud detection software? - The advertiser can't back up the claim of click fraud? - The major players in the industry refer to the problem as 'negligible'? Simply put - the click fraudster gets away with it. The rewards are enormous - estimates put the amount of money lost to click fraud in the range of billions of dollars annually. But the loss to any individual advertiser is usually negligible, and even Google sees refunding money to advertisers as no more than the cost of doing business. If we're ever going to put a dent in click fraud, three things have to happen.

1. Advertisers have to take responsibility for monitoring their own campaigns. If you don't know it's happening, you can't take steps to stop it.

2. Advertisers need to use the information they generate through their analytics to demand refunds from the PPC companies on a consistent basis. As long as the losses are minor compared to the profits for the PPC companies, their incentive for responding is limited.

3. Click fraud perpetrators have to be identified, actively pursued and penalized. Currently, modern techniques that use proxies and 'zombie networks' can make it almost impossible to identify and punish offenders. Those are the three elements of the Broken Window theory that make it work - community action, official backing and action and penalizing perpetrators. The first element in combating click fraud as a community is in getting click fraud prevention and tracking software into the hands of all advertisers. The difficulty of sifting through hundreds of pages of data to make comparisons and weed out patterns that signal click fraud is a daunting one for most companies. Click fraud detection software makes it almost painless - but can be expensive. Other parts of the internet market have benefited from open sourcing of software to manage content, manipulate graphics, and create communities and process payments. An open offering of free click fraud prevention software will encourage advertisers to start monitoring their own logs and records and identify potential fraudulent clicks. In addition, an open offering encourages others to modify and extend the software and make those extensions available to the community at large. With those monitors in place, the second part of the equation becomes more possible. When it's easy for advertisers to identify and document fraudulent clicks on their campaigns, it becomes that much easier for them to demand refunds for those clicks. The third part is an outgrowth of creating a community that actively works to eliminate click fraud. For the time being, click fraudsters are loose in a neighborhood of broken windows. With the right tools, we can begin to repair the windows and create a community that makes it nearly impossible to get away with their tactics.


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