fake web trafficDr. Paul Barford, a computer science professor at the University of Wisconsin, announced this month that fake web traffic could be a much bigger problem than anyone thought. Dr. Barford is also the Chief Scientist at MdotLabs, a startup company, and presented his findings at an Internet Security Symposium in Washington DC last week.

The Cost of Fake Traffic

It is disturbing enough to think that up to 50% of all web traffic could be non-human in nature. It becomes more unsettling when you consider just how high the cost of this fraudulent traffic is.

“We estimate the cost to advertisers for this fraudulent traffic to be on the order of $180 million annually,” Dr. Barford said in a statement in advance of his presentation. The figures get even scarier when you consider the fact that the bots always seem to be one step ahead of the researchers; every year, there are new bot-methods to create fake traffic and cost people money.

Fighting Back

There are new ways to fight back against fake web traffic. In fact, MdotLabs, the company that Dr. Barford co-founded this month, offers software for publishers to incorporate into their own sites. This new software should help to weed out fake traffic to the publishers’ site.

“From a publisher perspective, the platform allows them to differentiate themselves from lower-quality players and charge for higher-quality CPMs,” said Timur Yarnall, the CEO and co-founder of MdotLabs. Yarnall is also the one who has determined that as much as 50% of all web traffic is fake. Though some believe that that number is a little high – they believe it may be closer to 35% – it is clear that the number has exploded. In 2011, bots made up only 6% of all web traffic.

It is clear that bot technology is only going to get more complex, which means that anti-bot software must get more creative. It was interesting to see what Dr. Barford had to say at the Internet Security Symposium.

Have you had to deal with fake web traffic to your site? How have you been able to fight back?