By Ryan Heetderks
When you hear the phrase “buying clicks” you might recall instances of people boosting their Twitter or Instagram followers, obtaining likes on Facebook, or perhaps garnering views for a YouTube video. But have you ever investigated what goes on behind the scenes when paying for that traffic? What you’ll discover is far more sinister than you’d suspect.
What are Click Farms?
Click farms are entities where individuals get paid to interact with content for a fraction of a cent per engagement. Advanced click farms are run by small groups of individuals with hundreds of phones, computers, and accounts working in an automated fashion to interact with said media. For example, click farms can be recruited to exhaust competitors’ daily search budget to boost one’s own SEO. It’s technically not illegal, but it blurs the line of what is and isn’t ethical business behavior.
The work in click farms is by no means glamorous. For 1,000 impressions, workers will net on average one US dollar. However, despite the low CPM fare, running a farm can be a lucrative business because the model thrives off lax rules and a gray area in judgement-- how does one determine if a click is done by a farm with malicious intent or by a sales lead? Some companies may even know about these types of clicks but think these violations aren’t worth their time to police. This has caused the problem to become progressively worse over time.
How and Where Click Farms Work
For the most part, developing countries have cheap technology, excess phones, and nonexistent punishments for digital fraud creating a perfect oasis for click farms.
Workers use old unused phones and registered SIM cards to create custom-tailored cookie profiles toreplicate all sorts of specialized and lookalike segments. These custom profiles can be modeled to fit certain demographics advertisers target. If an advertiser wants to target a segment of women from southern California, age 25-29, who enjoy swimming and biking to like their Facebook page, sophisticated click farms can make those people exist. With a myriad of different accounts for every demographic, click farms can use unique devices paired to unique profiles to receive and subsequently click on ads giving the appearance that the target market is responding.
Illegally equipping SIM cards to accept calls and initiate internet browsing takes a bit of computer science ingenuity, but this is certainly not an overly arduous barrier to most hackers. The use of registered SIM cards is illicit and typically carried out by individuals who are unlawfully residing in a country, or working in a country via tourist visas. When these scammers get caught, they are sent back to their home country, but typically are not punished for their crimes.
Beyond the infrastructure and hardware requirements to conduct business as a click farm is the procurement of traffic itself. With the mainstream movement to crackdown on traffic generated by bots, click farms are increasing in popularity. As mentioned earlier, click farms can generate 1,000 clicks for as little as $1 dollar. This might seem inefficient compared to the speed of clicks generated by bots, but click farm traffic is much more difficult to distinguish from real traffic because it is generated by real human beings. This means they can naturally bypass security measures designed to screen for non-human traffic. Looking ahead, as bot traffic is reduced by automated methods, the the ad fraud industry will likely shift to a click farm model to continue offering its services.
What El Toro Is Doing About It
El Toro’s patented IP matching technology safeguards advertisers from paying for click farm traffic. Our core tech ties verified US-based IP addresses to their location of origin with a 95% statistical confidence level. To prevent from serving to click farms and infected networks, our demand side platform (DSP) bidder automatically studies the impression consumption of devices and IP’s, and if said consumption surpasses logical thresholds, then our technology does not serve at those IP’s.
Being aware of and understanding fraudulent traffic generated by click farms is the first step in protecting oneself against it. With El Toro’s technology suite, advertisers now have a tool to defend themselves against click farms.
In the programmatic space, it is challenging for advertisers to know exactly who they are displaying advertisements to and where, making them prone to ad fraud. However, with El Toro’s IP matching technology, the future of programmatic display advertising is looking brighter than ever before.