Facebook Sued for Click Fraud–RootZoo v. Facebook

By Eric Goldman

RootZoo, Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., 5:09-cv-03043-HRL (N.D Cal. complaint filed July 7, 2009)

Facebook appears to have run into some trouble with click fraud recently. Last month, TechCrunch had a series of articles about Facebook click fraud. TechCrunch postulates the following story: competitors are clicking on each others’ ads to reduce their ROI and drive each other off Facebook. To ensure that the click fraudders can see Facebook’s microtargeted ads, the fraudsters are creating thousands of fake accounts with heterogeneous profile information. The fraudster’s software eventually finds a target ad and clicks on it like crazy, so fast that the advertiser’s page never loads. This is distorting the advertisers’ server logs, causing a big discrepancy in reporting and making it impossible for advertisers to track down the click fraud. TechCrunch reports that it spoke with Facebook and Facebook claims the situation has been addressed. Of course, could Facebook say otherwise?

I’m not clear if it’s related to the TechCrunch coverage or not, but last week a putative class action against Facebook was filed, alleging click fraud. The plaintiffs allege that they were charged for clicks that never occurred at alarming rates–in RootZoo’s case, they claim they were charged for 804 clicks on a single day when their servers recorded about 300 clicks. Now, I’m never sure how much credit to assign to plaintiffs’ allegations like this. First, advertisers always want more performance for less cash. Second, advertisers’ tracking systems are not always reliable, so RootZoo’s undercounting could be due to their system, not Facebook’s. However, combined with the TechCrunch reports, it raises some concerns that something could have been amiss at Facebook (and maybe still is?).

That’s not to say the plaintiffs will get a check out of Facebook. The plaintiffs face many hurdles, including potential difficulties establishing a class, the many challenges getting competent evidence, and Facebook’s contract and all of the various protective provisions contained therein. So the plaintiffs have plenty of work ahead of them. Then again, so may Facebook.