Mobile advertising may still be in its infancy, but if a new study by Trademob is correct, click fraud on mobile ads is already quite well developed. The mobile app marketing company conducted research that showed that 40% of mobile ad clicks are either accidental or fraudulent.
The company conducted the study by looking at six million mobile ad clicks on its campaigns for applications, which were served across ten different ad networks in June 2012. With 40% of clicks, Trademob found that the conversion rate of clicks to installs was less than 0.1%. These clicks, it concluded, were accidental or fraudulent.
Around half of those clicks show patterns that are symptomatic of click fraud, such as traffic that peaks at unusual times of day or a bulk of clicks coming from similar IP addresses. The rest appear to be accidental clicks — perhaps due to the “fat fingers” syndrome or poor user interface design.
Regarding accidental clicks, Trademob suggests that publishers who generate a large number of this type of clicks could be poorly designed, and should be blacklisted by advertisers.
On the subject of outright click fraud, the researchers found that both simple techniques — where publishers report clicks that never happened — as well as more sophisticated techniques, are being used on mobile ads. The more complex techniques include botnets — in which fraudsters marshall an army of zombie computers, modified to look like mobile devices to ad servers, to click on ads. Client-side fraud is other other type of more sophisticated technique, involving deceptive banners — perhaps hidden behind another element on the website — utilized to trick users into clicking on them.
All of those types of fraud can be detected, though, by analyzing traffic patterns — such as lots of clicks at odd times, or a bulk of clicks from similar IP addresses, or lots of clicks coming from geographies that aren’t targeted in the ads. Currently, fraudsters aren’t employing sophisticated evasive maneuvers, because few advertisers or networks are aggressively blacklisting publishers.