European researchers have released a study (PDF) that claims Google charges advertisers for fake video views – even though it identifies them as bot traffic. According to the study, AdWords charges advertisers for these ‘fake’ views even though YouTube has already deemed them as illegitimate.

The researchers found that from 150 total views of two videos they uploaded, YouTube only deemed 25 of them as legitimate, but AdWords charged the researchers for a total of 91 views – nearly half of all fake views.

 

Google says it will contact the team of researchers

The researchers’ experiment was quite simple: they uploaded videos to YouTube and targeted them with paid YouTube ads. the team then created bots – software that runs automated tasks over the internet – to view their uploaded videos.

The result was researchers being charged nearly four times the amount they should have been, for two videos alone. This not only reveals a huge gap for error in how Google charges for ads, but a massive opportunity for exploitation from rival advertisers and firms.

Google has reportedly said it will contact the research team to discuss their findings, claiming they make every effort to disregard invalid traffic and fraudulent activities:

“We take invalid traffic very seriously and have invested significantly in the technology and team that keep this out of our systems,” the company said in a statement. “The vast majority of invalid traffic is filtered from our systems before advertisers are ever charged.”

 

A huge gap for exploitation

The concern for advertisers isn’t just the fact that AdWords billing can be so inaccurate, but their vulnerability to rival advertisers. If this team of researchers can create bots to target their own videos there is nothing to stop advertisers creating similar software to attack their rivals and drive up their advertising costs.

For firms running extensive video campaigns and using YouTube ads to promote their content, being charged four times what they owe is a crippling hit. You can’t convert bots, no matter how good your video campaigns may be, and if that counts for 75% of the views you’re being charged for there’s a serious problem.

 

Video fraud not getting the attention it deserves

The study acknowledges that Google has made significant efforts to prevent fraudulent activity on more traditional strategies, like search and PPC, but the younger approach of video marketing is yet to receive the attention it needs.

“We speculate that even though YouTube’s policy puts in lots of effort to compensate users after an attack is discovered, this practice places the burden of the risk on the advertisers, who pay to get their ads displayed,” the report concludes.

The end result is advertisers run the risk of building their campaigns upon unreliable data, being overcharged in error or even sabotaged by rival advertisers – none of which you want to associate with a profitable video marketing strategy.