Web traffic

Fake Web Traffic Is Worse Than You Think, Study Suggests

Dr Barford, who is also the chief scientist of startup MdotLabs, is expected to present a study at a Internet Security Symposium Wednesday in Washington, DC, where he will claim that 10 traffic networks generate more than 500 million invalid ad impressions per month.

“We estimate the cost to advertisers of this fraudulent traffic is in the order of $180 million per year,” he said in a statement ahead of the presentation.

Dr. Barford reached his conclusion by impersonating a web publisher and signing up for several different traffic generating services, also known as PPV networks, which he filtered using software that uses anomaly detection to identify fake website traffic.

The study comes as more publishers and advertisers become aware of fake web traffic and take steps to combat increasingly sophisticated bots.

“We’re seeing bots playing games that we didn’t see a few years ago,” said Brian Pugh, senior vice president of audience analytics at ComScore.

MdotLabs, the company Dr. Barford co-founded this month, is one of a number of companies that publishers, media agencies and advertisers use to identify fake traffic. GroupM, for example, employs the services of at least three such companies: Double Verify, Integral Ad Science, and Spider.io. In February, London-based Spider.io discovered a cluster of more than 120,000 computers that had been infected with the Chameleon botnet, which was flooding websites with fake traffic.

Among service companies such as MdotLabs offerings is the ability for publishers to embed software on their own sites in an effort to weed out fake traffic.

“From a publisher’s perspective, the platform allows them to differentiate themselves from lower-quality players and charge higher-quality CPMs,” said Timur Yarnall, CEO and fellow co-founder of MdotLabs.

Estimates regarding the amount of overall fake web traffic vary. Mr. Yarnall claims that up to 50% of all web traffic is fake, which is probably the highest.

ComScore reported that 36% of all traffic is non-human, though that includes some bots, such as Google’s, that don’t inflate ad impressions. The percentage has risen sharply since 2011, when it was only 6%. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of visitors to so-called “long-tail sites,” which have an overall reach of less than 1.5% of total Internet users, create false ad impressions, according to Mr. Pugh. He said the percentage of fake visitors on large websites is much lower.