Sep. 28, 2012 at 8:51 PM ET
A new study by advertising company Solve Media indicates that one out of 10 hits on any given website is a bot or automated script. No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of robo-clicks.
"Bots" aren't actual robots sitting at a computer, of course. They're a kind of specialized software that can do anything from clicking an ad thousands of times to commenting or registering for an account. They're everywhere; Facebook recently revealed that it has over 83 million fake users, many of which are certainly bots. There are also friendly bots, like the ones Google uses to index sites, but they generally try to stay out sight and not cause trouble.
Solve Media works in the CAPTCHA world — those "type what you see" tests that purport to check that you're human — so it has had many occasions to study bots' behavior. Its 10 percent number is based on looking at more than 100 million unique visitors a month across its ad network for over a year, applying hundreds of what they call "attack vectors" to identify bots.
Solve Media's CEO told AdWeek that as the same bots get encountered again and again, the company gets get "more and more reputation data and a valuable understanding of who they are and what they are." In other words, they don't just count the bots, they get to know them.
Most bots are based in the U.S., they said, but U.S. websites aren't actually the highest in bot activity, with around 16 percent off traffic attributable to them. In Singapore and Taiwan, Solve Media found bot rates of more than 50 percent. And it's rising: the company says "aberrant traffic" rose 400 percent during the 18-month study.
That's bad news for advertisers who have spent their money on display ads. If half the visitors to a site are fake, that's half their money wasted! Solve Media, naturally enough, recommends its own platform for controlling such fraudulent activity, but if even a top-shelf website like Facebook has trouble doing it, the problem may be getting out of control.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.