Google has been challenged about its approach to advertisers after a study claimed that the company has been charging advertisers for YouTube views even when it thinks that the advert was viewed by a robot, rather than a human.
A group of European researchers behind the study carried out an experiment in which they uploaded videos to YouTube and then bought YouTube adverts targeting those videos. They also created bots, software that runs automated tasks over the internet, to view the videos.
While the bots “viewed” two of the videos 150 times, YouTube’s public view counter only listed 25 of the views after apparently correctly identifying the rest as fake.
However, Google’s AdWords advertising platform charged for 91 views, according to the study.
Google was reported to have said that it was contacting the researchers – from NEC Labs Europe, Charles III University of Madrid, the IMDEA Networks Institute and the Polytechnic University of Turin – to discuss their findings further.
The company added: “We take invalid traffic very seriously and have invested significantly in the technology and team that keep this out of our systems. The vast majority of invalid traffic is filtered from our systems before advertisers are ever charged.”
The researchers’ paper says that while substantial effort has been devoted to understanding fraudulent activity in traditional online advertising such as search and banner ads, more recent forms such as video ads have received little attention.
It adds that while YouTube’s system for detecting fake views significantly outperforms others, it may still be susceptible to simple attacks.
“Furthermore, we find that YouTube penalises its users’ public and monetised view counters differently, with the former being more aggressive,” it states.
“In practice, this means that views identified as fake and discounted from the public view counter are still monetised. We speculate that even though YouTube’s policy puts in lots of effort to compensate users after an attack is discovered, this practice places the burden of the risk on the advertisers, who pay to get their ads displayed.”
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