Google secret ad fraud team – Business Insider
Google has an extremely secretive unit working to combat advertising fraud — many people within Google don’t even know the team exists, but AdAge was given the first look at what the team of about 100 people is working on.
Advertising fraud is a serious problem. The Internet Advertising Bureau predicts ad fraud could cost brands as much as £6.5 billion ($10.1 billion) in wasted spending each year.
For Google — the world’s biggest seller of online advertising — that’s a huge problem. Google requires trust that ads being bought through it are actually reaching a human audience, not an army of botnets created by criminal enterprises that exploit unsuspecting consumers’ personal computers.
Criminals take serious amounts of money out of the advertising ecosystem by generating millions of false clicks on ads (among other techniques).
And it’s because ad fraud is essentially a form of organized crime that many people AdAge encountered while at Google’s offices in central London asked to be referred to by only their first names. One Russian engineer, Sasha, said: “Because it is part of organized crime, I’m guessing it would not be a friendly environment for the people that speak out against it.”
The unit itself is situated behind a “hulking door with a circular vault-like handle,” AdAge describes, which just adds to the air of mystery around it. The operation is “one of the most important and best-protected secret units of the web,” AdAge writes.
The man leading Google’s botnet-fighting unit can be named: Douglas de Jager. He founded Spider.io, which was sold to Google for an undisclosed amount last year. All seven Spider.io staff members moved over to Google. AdAge says it is the mixture of Spider.io’s expertise plus Google’s computing power that has sped up the fraud-fighting process “dramatically.”
But it has added some restrictions: The bot-fighting unit has to steer clear of Google’s sales team to avoid conflicts of interest. AdAge explains:
The sales team, as you might imagine, doesn’t stand to gain immediately when inventory is removed from Google’s systems. The more ads it sells, the more money it takes in.
The engineers work in what they describe as their “dungeon,” scanning malware binary during sessions lasting up to two hours looking for patterns and raking the forums used by fraudsters for clues as to where the bad actors originate. But they do regularly emerge from their dungeon, for coffee. After each session, the team “flocked” to Google’s famous microkitchens, where everything is free, to caffeinate “and forget,” AdAge writes.
Ultimately, Google’s team examines clues for “signals” — a type of behavior inadvertently created by fraudsters when they program a bot that can help the engineers identify the traffic.
Google’s secret weapon to do this is called “Powerdrill”:
Powerdrill is a freak computing system. It’s capable of processing a half trillion cells of data in a less than five seconds (translation: It’s damn fast). And it can spit that data out as charts and other graphical representations that make it possible to spot the irregularities of nonhuman traffic.
AdAge goes into further detail — including a fascinating anecdote about an unnamed ad-verification service that was responsible for a swath of nonhuman traffic on the Google network — about what Google’s team is up to and the way it goes about tracking down fraudsters in its article, which you can read in full here.