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back to article Rampant fake Facebook ad clicks riddle hits dead end

After a startup claimed that 80 per cent of clicks on its ads in Facebook were bogus, sales of pitchforks and burning torches went through the roof as pundits circled in search of a scandal. However, the figures in the case lead to an unexpected dead end rather than to a smoking gun of unimaginable fraud. Facebook charges …

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""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

Noscript+ABP - a fairly common combination I would have thought.

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I have no idea if NoScript and AdBlock are available on browser platforms that do not use the Firefox engine, but I'm pretty certain that even so, they are not installed by 80% of all Internet users.

Something else is going on here.

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Re: ""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

When I first heard of this story, I asked a handful of 'average punter' friends. Only one understood my question about JavaScript, and said he lef tit on 'to get all the goodies'. The rest had zero clue. Some said they liked the ads they saw and wouldn't want to lose them. Some of those regularly send me amusing links or docs that I never open, having learned early on that their 'I trust the sender' means 'he seems nice'. So I can well believe that 90%+ average users are JavaScript-enabled.

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Re: ""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

People running ABP wouldn't see the ads to click through them in the first place. So you're looking at the rare and elusive punters who aren't running ABP, but still have NoScript running. Well, that or bots.

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Re: ""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

"Noscript+ABP - a fairly common combination I would have thought."

Noscript+ABP - and using Facebook fairly UNcommon combination I would have thought.

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Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

A quick web search only found one attempt to measure the percentage of people who disable javascript. There were several pages that disputed the figures.

I can understand why some people cannot believe even one percent disable javascript: If a site does not work well without javascript, I will go to one of the competitors. I assume fellow Luddites do likewise so owners of those sites are convinced everyone enables javascript. I saw a long discussion thread about how pointless it was to cater for lack of javascript. Not a single commentard argued. I tried to speak up, but javascript was required. I enabled javascript, but it did not like my browser. I tried ice weasel, and still could not post a comment.

I can understand why some people are shocked that only two percent disable javascript. When I have tried sites that require javascript, I have run away screaming. Dell's site is particularly abysmal. The only way I could read it was to block out the animations with my hand.

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Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

While I sympathize with your pain, it is not relevant to the statistics at hand. When you arrive at a site and then depart, in disgust or otherwise, you will have been logged as a page hit and as a unique visitor. So if there was a large number of "JavaScript Luddites", they would show up in the server logs, even on sites that require JavaScript to function. In fact, especially on such sites, as any analytics package worth its salt will draw attention to a high frequency "arrived at ad landing page -> left immediately" path.

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Re: ""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

I did some (very) back of a fag packet guesstimates a while ago and got to adblock penetration of only around 5%

http://www.wallpaperingfog.co.uk/2012/03/adblock-penetration-has-doubled-in.html

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Go

Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

I believe Limited Run themselves expounded on the problems with detecting JavaScript usage. The main issue is that most analytics programs require JS to be enabled, so NoScript users will always fly under the radar. Apparently to overcome this they wrote their own analytics program, and it's from that they got the 1-2% figure. Other studies (and there's not been many of them) seem to confirm this.

NoScript (the extension) is very uncommon, by the way. Have a look at the Firefox page for it and you'll see it has 2 million users. It is probably safe to assume the number of people who have disabled JS through other means also number around 2 million.

For comparison, Google gets around two (US) billion visitors per month. 4 mil is a drop in the water as far as total Internet users is concerned. This is very wooly stats of course, but it's fair to say that the influence of non-JS users is microscopic.

Developers still need graceful degredation for non-JS though. 1% may be very little, but in that category we have almost every single search engine bot. Catering to them is kind of essential, at least as far as finding information and links is concerned.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

"two (US) billion"

That would be two (UK) billion then since ~1975

Is that 2 billion UNIQUE visitors or just visits ? - that would make quite a difference

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Anonymous Coward

Does anyone really think Facebook will investigate something that will reduce their profit?

Doubtful I say!

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Coat

@deains -- Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

"For comparison, Google gets around two (US) billion visitors per month. "

How many Imperial visitors per month is that?

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Headmaster

Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

Uniques. And a billion will always be a million million, I say!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Disputed figure: 1 or 2 % disable javascript

"And a billion will always be a million million,"

You can say what you like, the convention is now a thousand million

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Ah, I see

The trick isn't to use adblock+noscript, it's to use something which runs off merrily clicking every ad in sight.

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WTF?

I don't get it

What incentive is there for the people running the bots apart from boosting Facebook's coffers ?

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Re: I don't get it

To increase your competitor's advertising cost for almost-zero cost to yourself?

To provide justification for a "We'll get you more hits" (or SEO) service that they've sold to the customer?

I don't know. But it's probably not bots as in "fake click bots build to game the system" but bots as in "we index every site on the web, whoops that indexing of your site has cost you 100 'clicks' because Facebook counted it as a genuine visit".

I know that on a small site you can get more GoogleBot, MSN Bot, Yahoo Bot, etc. than you do anything else, and they hit you regularly and index your site and do so with Javascript disabled. It's just that most places wouldn't count them as "clicks" whereas Facebook obviously does.

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Re: I don't get it

I have an alternate theory and it has nothing to do with Facebook themselves or the people paying for advertising.

The social data Facebook holds is hugely valuable to the marketing companies and some of them want access to a whole database of it, not just the promise that FB will target your ads at your demographic.

Hence a couple of years ago we saw penetration by the questions applications. "Does your friend X like thing Y?" X is then told someone answered a question about them and needed to answer a question back to see the answer. This was social data mining with a very thin veneer of being a fun game. It was also bad because as a third party to this I couldn't stop people answering questions about me and my data was in their database because my friends had added the application and guess what permissions it wanted.

I suspect that all this 'clickfraud' is bots run by these database creators, scraping the pages of the people that have allowed the mining applications in to their profiles and following links to see what FB targets at them.

Not even I believe that 80% of hits come from NS + ABP, much as I like and recommend the tools.

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Holmes

Re: I don't get it

FB shareholders running the bots?! :-)

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Re: I don't get it

My initial post was titled """browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something UNHEARD of in this day and age""

I was suggesting that the claim was unlikely - many people use Noscript or have JS turned off for routine browsing. I certainly wouldn't believe they contributed significantly to the problems alleged here

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Seriously, why would a business ever pay CPC? I don't get it.

Bung a tracking cookie on visitors so you know where they came from. WHEN they make a purchase, then you know they were a customer worth getting, and where they first came from, and then you can work out later how much each website made you in extra profit versus how much it cost to advertise with them.

Someone "clicking" onto your website doesn't do anything and is easily faked. But the bots aren't going to suddenly start adding things to their cart, going through checkout, using a valid credit card, receiving your product, etc. If you've not had a purchase from them, why would you pay someone for referring them to you?

The closest analogy is putting out leaflets. But if you put out 5000 leaflets in one area and get NOTHING back, why would you pay again, or pay for more - and wouldn't you be suspecting the guy you paid to distribute the leaflets just threw them in the bin and went home?

Don't pay per click. Pay a commission based on the amount of money you made from a certain site directing customers to use. If you *DO* pay per click, because there's no other way, monitor how many "clicks" results in how much profit for each site individually. If it's not profitable, then stop doing it, immediately. It's really not hard and it makes me wonder what businesses are doing just throwing away money on "clicks" that they aren't even bothering to track. It just confirms my belief that 90% of all businesses that advertise online, using Google, Facebook or whoever, just aren't bothering to manage their business properly. Seriously, out of all the ads I've seen on my Google searches and all the ones next to my Facebook views, I cannot see why anyone would waste money advertising that particular product to me (I still get ads for Zentai suits from Milanoo for some reason - god knows why).

Seriously, if a click on your website did not result in a single other page being viewed, it was pointless (it means they weren't interested in your product or thought it was something else). If it does not result in them adding it to the cart (even a month down the line), then they were nothing but browsers and *COST* you money. And you can even track if they bother to come back next month and buy something else entirely instead.

Run your business like a business. If your paper ad campaign made you no money whatsoever, then pack it in quickly so as to not throw more money away. If your online ad campaign made you no money whatsoever, then pack it in quickly so as to not throw more money away. If you *DON'T KNOW* whether it made you money or not, and are just happy that you "got more hits", then you're not running a business properly.

Track those clicks and pay accordingly (a website I used to use did this - Atomz search, or something? I can't remember. You basically got X% of the price of anything that your site was the "primary cause" of someone buying something), or treat them as a throwaway paper ad campaign. If it does its job, use it. If it doesn't, ditch it. 3 months is the MAXIMUM I would expect it to take if you weren't actually getting enough real customers from something for you to tweak, fix, and then abandon the concept.

How do these people manage in business if it takes them THIS LONG to figure this stuff out? You can't even use the excuse of not being net-savvy.

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1. Because, unless you're a techie, you don't realise such things are possible.

2. Because, even for a techie, building and managing such a system takes time (i.e. costs money) and detracts from more profitable work. (cf Limited Run initially relying on external analytics tools.)

3. Because successful advertising doesn't necessarily lead to clicks or sales; a surfer might not need your product now, but they might remember you in two months when they do.

4. Because it costs me 3p for an A5 double-sided colour leaflet, and 99% of them end up in the recycle bin, whereas someone clicking on my ad is actively expressing an interest.

5. Because, despite what right-wingers say, many businesses are poorly run; expecting every business to be world beating is like expecting every Jamaican to run under 10s.

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Stop

"Bung a tracking cookie on visitors so you know where they came from."

Except when asked "Can we stick a tracking cookie on your computer?" anyone with three brain cells to rub together will say; "No!".

You can, of course, do so without asking. Just don't act all surprised when your door gets kicked in by jackbooted Eurostormtroopers(tm).

Alternatively, you could just ask for generic cookie permission and cross your fingers, but eventually somebody's going to rumble you and out you as a bunch of seedy bumsuckers and you'll get to find out the hard way that; "Any publicity is good publicity" has the odd caveat to it.

Then there's "Do Not Track"........

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@Lee

1) Only a fool pays per impression for ads on websites. They are even easier to fake than per click ads. Only a bigger fool would sell ads based on what an advertiser tells him the response rate is based on his sales. So even though per click sucks, it's the best of bad options.

2) Most punters can't be bothered with AdBlock and NoScript, so Javascript just works for most advertisers. On the other hand, most punters do have AV software, which helpfully deletes cookies as an invasion of privacy. So cookies suck for tracking, even the good ones. Which moves you into areas on non-cookie cookies, which to my way of thinking are even more suspicious.

Yes, you'll want to do your own internal sales tracking on your own website. That will let you work with vendors who are better for you. But never make the mistake of thinking any of your payment options are good, because they all suck.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't believe a word of it.

A Facebook representative apparently told Limited Run that it would need to spend $2,000 a month on advertising for this name change to be authorised.

This, it seems, is incorrect. Another firm already has a Facebook presence under the same title as Limited Run, so the name change would not have been possible - and Limited Run's initial ire at having its page name held to hostage by Facebook was therefore down to a misunderstanding.

I don't believe that for a second. What the hell kind of typo or mishearing could turn "No you can't " into "It costs $2000"? Where would any number even come into it if the answer was just "no"? I suspect that FB marketing were initally perfectly happy to offer to evict an established customer from their page for money and only got their heads banged together by higher-ups when it came out in public in a bad light.

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Rob
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Re: I don't believe a word of it.

Either that or Limited Run are talking up some billy bullshit to save loss of face.

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But why?

I don't get who would make money out of this fraud? Surely only Facebook?

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Re: But why?

Who are this company that no one had even heard of until they made a noise complaining about Farcebooks ad system? A company that is now getting a lot of free publicity.

Rhetorical question.

There may be truth in the company's claims, there maybe a getting free advertising strategy underway.

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Re: But why?

Anyone with FB stock?

a competitor

anyone with a sense of mischief, I mean who gains out of most hacks and move DDoS attacks?

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Happy

Re: I don't get who would make money out of this fraud? Surely only Facebook?

Yes. Facebook. If you read between the lines of the original story, the guy was hinting at precisely this. Imagine if FB had a rogue element (a la Google Wifi slurpage) that realised what a jolly wheeze it would be to stuff their coffers with free click cash. But got found out.

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Re: But why?

FB wouldn't be that stupid. The only potential upside is to the short-sellers; report out, stock plunges. Not that it's got much further to plunge.

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Re: But why?

Or we could go with cock up rather than cunning...

Perhaps their analytics software wasn't up to scratch? It might explain why they've gone quiet if they've subsequently found a bug in it?

Or do people think only big companies screw up software development?

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Analytics Fallacy

Just because your analytics doesn't see me doesn't mean I don't have javascript enabled, or that I'm a bot.

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Pint

How did you find such a non-judgemental expert?

Don't let any other news organization hear about it.

Oh, wait. They only bring in outspoken critics or yes-men for ratings purposes.

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@scytale

The point is to make advertisers realise that unconverted clicks are wasted advertising budget - making them unlikely to stay with FB or any other outfit which uses a similar charging model. There's nothing like a lesson with an economic sting in the tail to make it stick.

GM and a couple of other $LargeOutfits have already worked out that the conversion rate from social media advertising isn't worth it.

FB is tolerable with NS+ABP enabled. Without it, the ads are intrusive. Clicking like mad is another way of torpedoing the economic model which leads to obnoxious website adverts.

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Anonymous Coward

Can someone enlighten me

I think facebook is bullshit and I'd rather eat my first born than to sign up so can someone care to explain just who benefits from the click fraud on the facebook ads? Are facebook ads much like adsense i.e. with publishers and advertisers? I assumed only facebook gets the ad money as the sole publisher. So why would anyone even bother doing click fraud for no gain whatsoever?

In which case it's obvious that facebook is shady and seeks ways to rape you in any way possible for dime and nickles.

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Anonymous Coward

Cat

I am at this moment trying to train my cat to click random ads on his facebook page

He objects to being called bogus.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cat

"trying to train my cat"

My stock response to anyone that says that "ANYTHING is possible"

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Anonymous Coward

I always thought the web ads industry needs to change their model either way. Pay Per Click just doesn't make sense to me. Some brands advertise just so they're noticed - not hoping for a response (Coke for example). Any sort of display gives value so Pay Per View like TV/newspaper ads model seems to make more sense.

Here's hoping PPC get's dumped. Yes it's easy to fraud at the end of the day, and PPV should be the model to be used.

As a site owner, I just don't see the reason why somebody shouldn't pay for the space occupied on the site when it is viewed. Whether it's clicked or not depends very much on their own execution on the ad and it's just unfair to site owners.

In fact some brands do the execution deliberately badly so as to not encourage you to click (which goes to a boring page) so they pay less but their 'air' time is more.

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Anonymous Coward

Generally speaking, PPC does work, you just have to audit it to make sure its generating acceptable ROI. In a ideal world, yes I'd love to only pay on converted sale or whatever, but to be fair to the PPC seller (Google or whoever), they can't control what the user does on my site, so PPC is the best compromise.

As for Facebook, I've long suspected there's something screwy going on and wouldn't touch FB ads with a bargepole. There was a massive switch to FB advertising away from more traditional banners a couple of years ago (every IAB in the western world watched it happen), on the assumption that although the ads on FB are smaller, they would only be displayed to customers who found them relevant. Anyone here find the ads they see on FB relevant? Thought not.

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Anonymous Coward

Can the browser be preloading the ads and still count as clicks?

http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20022169-264.html

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It's alright for me. I have Noscript and AdBlockPlus but FB is of course enabled in Noscript, and I don't need Javascript to hop on my bike to a warehouse open day of my favoured ethical clothing brand. Now if only flash wasn't such a bloated waster these days.

I can't deny that not catering for Java-disabled users used to be a bugbear of mine. If the site is trusted then it is probably already enabled, but random crap cropping up on FB etc gets no such privelige. LOLcats and news reports need no such tomfoolery.

PS I recommend Lazarus form recovery, with the two mentioned above that's my vital 3 addons.

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