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Prosecution of Google click fraud extortionist quietly dropped

Monday, December 11, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: google, click fraud, health news

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(NewsTarget) On March 10, 2004, an Oak Park, Calf. man allegedly tried to extort $150,000 from Google in exchange for not releasing his click fraud software across the internet, but after the man was indicted for his crime, the U.S. Attorney's Office quietly dismissed the charges.

Critics say it should have been an open and shut case. Anthony Bradley, then 32, demonstrated his "Google Clique" software -- which he claimed could force Google to pay millions for false clicks -- to company engineers and made his threat while previously-tipped-off police recorded the conversation in the next room. But after his arrest, Bradley was not prosecuted for crimes related to click fraud, for which he could have served up to 20 years in prison, and the charges were quietly dismissed on Nov. 22. The prosecutors and defense attorney Jay Rorty refused to discuss the reasons for the dismissal of charges, and Rorty also refused to make Bradley available for questioning. Google itself also had little information to add.

"We continue to work closely with law enforcement in many areas, including click fraud," said a Google spokesperson. "Individual cases may or may not be pursued by law enforcement at their discretion."

Some people familiar with the case theorize that Google may have crippled the case by not cooperating with prosecutors. Click fraud -- perpetrated when web site owners click on the ads they are hosting to generate profits -- is the bane of internet advertising businesses, costing them around $1 billion a year, according to experts. Google is notoriously tight-lipped about how they detect the crime, ostensibly so that criminals cannot take advantage of the information, and all the company will report is that it detects most false clicks before advertisers have to pay for them and the percentage of clicks found to be false is less than 10.

Some critics are not convinced that the mystery imposed on click fraud information is in businesses' best interests, as the con can make money for Google and its competitors. The search engine giant distributes ads across the internet, and splits the revenues with partner sites. As advertisers are billed for these clicks, if a fraudulent click is not detected, Google still makes a profit.

What is clear is such reticent behavior on the part of Google complicates prosecutor's jobs, because they would have to know how the company handles click frauds in order to prove related charges, such as the ones leveled at Bradley.

"You can't charge extortion unless you explain what you're being extorted over," said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and a former Securities & Exchange Commission attorney. "You have to show the economic harm being done."

For now, Google seems to have chosen to protect its secret, which means that online con artists have to guess how Google detects fraudulent clicks, but could also give the impression that there are no consequences for what appears to be a massive click fraud scheme. Allowing Bradley to get away with his alleged crime could mean that any future crimes of this nature will not be taken seriously by the authorities.

As Henning put it: "The next time this comes up, are prosecutors going to listen to you again?"

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