Click fraud is a major issue when it comes to search marketing and big money is at stake.

The source of the most insidious click fraud: rogue third-party
publishers who participate in PPC ad networks run by companies like
Google and Yahoo and who use click fraud in an attempt to intentionally
inflate their earnings.

In the absence of these third-party publishers, a large chunk of click fraud would go away, right? You’d think so but an interesting phenomenon is being reported by advertisers using Facebook’s self-serve PPC ad platform: they’re seeing signs of click fraud. The problem: Facebook doesn’t run a network so there are no obvious third parties with a strong incentive to abuse the system.

Unlike the click fraud that usually is attempted on networks like Google AdSense, for instance, many of the advertisers having trouble with Facebook aren’t disputing the legitimacy of the clicks Facebook is sending; they’re disputing that the clicks even exist at all.

TechCrunch points toscores of complaints” posted by advertisers who are baffled by the click figures that Facebook is reporting. One reported that his PPC tracking application was reporting ten times fewer clicks than Facebook’s ad platform was telling him he received. I could think of a number of ways this might occur but it’s all conjecture at this point.

The really bad news for Facebook advertisers: this is a real problem. Brandon McCormick, a Facebook employee, responded to the TechCrunch post and admitted that there is a problem:

Over the past few days, we have seen an increase in suspicious clicks. We have identified a solution which we have already begun to implement and expect will be completely rolled out by the end of today. In addition, we are identifying impacted accounts and will ensure that advertisers are credited appropriately.

This raises more questions than it provides answers:

  • Who is behind the Facebook click fraud and what is the motivation?
  • What methods are being used to perpetrate the click fraud?
  • When did Facebook first learn that it might be vulnerable to the scourge of click fraud?
  • Why didn’t any automated fraud detection systems Facebook has in place pick up on the problem sooner?
  • How can Facebook be sure that this issue only started a few days ago? Will they go back and look at past data to see if they missed earlier incidents of fraud?

Until these questions are answered, one has to wonder if this won’t turn into another impediment to Facebook’s monetization.

Photo credit: jelene via Flickr.