Researcher exposes Google spyware connections

A high-profile anti-spyware advocate finds that Google is charging advertisers for "conversion-inflation" traffic from the WhenU spyware program.
Written by Ryan Naraine, Contributor

A prominent anti-spyware researcher is calling on Google to sever its ties with an advertising partner that covers popular sites with pop-up PPC advertisements promoting those same sites.

According to Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and a staunch anti-spyware advocate, Google is charging advertisers for what he described as "conversion-inflation" traffic from the WhenU spyware program.

Edelman's expose includes several screenshots, video, and packet log to show that WhenU continues to cover web sites with PPC popups. Crucially, those popups show Google ads -- often promoting the very same sites users are already browsing.

Here's a sample of Edelman's report:

I browsed the Continental Airlines site. WhenU opened [a] popup  -- covering the Continental site with a list of Google ads, putting a prominent Continental ad front-and-center. Thus, Google charges Continental a fee to access a user already at Continental's site. That's a rotten deal for Continental: For one, an advertiser should not have to pay to reach a user already at its site. Furthermore, advertisers paying high Google prices deserve high-quality ad placements, not spyware popups.

The details of the Continental ad, as shown in the WhenU-Google popup, further entice users to click. The ad promises a "low fare guarantee" -- suggesting that users who book some other way (without clicking the ad) may not enjoy that guarantee. And the ad promises to take users to the "official site" -- suggesting that users who don't click the ad will book through a site that is less than official. In fact both suggestions are inaccurate, but a reasonable user would naturally reach these conclusions based on the wording of the advertisement and the context of its appearance.

Edelman says this is the third sequence where he has observed Google paying WhenU to cover advertisers' sites with the advertisers' own Google ads.

He recommends that Google sever its relationship with InfoSpace, the company that it pays to deliver the ads.  Edelman also called on the search marketing giant to pay restitution to affected advertisers.

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