More Than One-Third of All Web Traffic Is Fake

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
March 24 2014 4:01 PM

More Than One-Third of All Web Traffic Is Fake

Humans or bots?

Photo by Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Just over one-third of Web traffic is fraudulent, the Wall Street Journal reports, and robots are to blame.


The fake traffic comes from botnets that click on shady sites that have been created solely to generate false page view impressions, gathering advertising dollars for site owners in the process. The scheme works because advertisers only pay for their ads to appear on a site, and not specifically for their ads to be seen by real people.

From the WSJ:

The fraudsters erect sites with phony traffic and collect payments from advertisers through the middlemen who aggregate space across many sites and resell the space for most Web publishers. The identities of the fraudsters are murky, and they often operate from far-flung places such as Eastern Europe, security experts say.

Advertisers are aware of the problem, but the Internet is too powerful a means of distribution for them to cut back on their spending, even if one-third of it ultimately goes nowhere. As people are spending more time with mobile and Internet-connected devices, digital ad buys are expected to rise in the U.S. by 17 percent this year to a total of $50 billion.

At the Interactive Advertising Bureau's annual conference last month, Chairman Vivek Shah said that Internet advertising is facing a "crisis," while Roxanne Barretto, assistant vice president for U.S. digital marketing at L'Oréal, said "slowing down [spending] represents a missed opportunity to connect with our core audience."

Part of the problem is that the legit ad industry itself is dependent on bot-like technology. Today, most ads are bought "programmatically," or via buying software that automatically places ads on sites that fit the media plan. The ads are bought in bulk and at tremendous speeds. Eighty percent of all ads are expected to be place programmatically within the next 10 years.

What that means is that "robots" are buying ads generated by other "robots" visiting sites, and the buying bots are unable to distinguish the shady bots from legitimate human traffic.

Tech companies have risen to the challenge of building software designed to such distinctions. Google recently acquired, a company that offers a number of services to help ensure that online advertisements are being seen by real people.

Dylan Love is a writer for Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 19 2014 1:10 PM Ascension Island: Home of Lava Fields, a False Forest, and the World's Worst Golf Course
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.