Google has apparently agreed to pay the equivialent of $90 million (yikes!) to settle a click fraud class action. Here’s the AP story. According to third-party data compiled by eMarketer, SEMPO found that "the percentage of advertisers who say that click fraud, the artificial inflation of click through numbers, is a growing problem tripled in 2005, to 16%. Elsewhere, a survey by IntelliSurvey Inc. and Radar Research reports that, among respondents surveyed, 46% of all advertisers with 500 or more employees have been a victim of click fraud."
According to the AP story:
The proposed settlement … would apply to all advertisers in Google’s network during the past four years. Any Web site showing improper charges dating back to 2002 will be eligible for an account credit that could be used toward future ads distributed by Google.
This settlement must indicate that the case had some teeth because Google clearly has the resources to fight the case to the end. (Yahoo! was also a defendant and said it will fight.) This is also not a nuisance settlement at this dollar level.
One question is whether this settlement will bar future suits. There are a host of complex rules surrounding class-action litigation and who can be bound by settlements. It may be that this settlement was justified from Google’s point of view because it will largely prevent — certainly at a class-action level — this sort of litigation in the future. (That’s not entirely clear right now to me.)
The terms of the settlement appear to require actual proof of click fraud to get the credit and seem to extend to any Google advertiser over the past four years. So as a practical matter Google may wind up "paying" less than the stated potential value of the settlement.
And while this settlement may bar future legal action, it won’t necessarily address advertiser concerns and complaints today; only an effective transparent policy on click fraud will do that. But Google knows that.
Here’s Google’s official statement.
Related (only generally): Here’s the SEW blog’s nice roundup of tidbits released intentionally and otherwise surrounding Google analyst day.