Microsoft is suing science news website RedOrbit for a "click laundering" scheme that, if undetected, could have cost advertisers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The software giant accuses Eric Ralls, the founder of the Texas-based site, of a form of 'pay-per-click' (PPC) fraud on the software giant's adCenter network. A second, unrelated suit, also for click laundering, has been brought against unnamed defendants.
PPC fraudsters use automated scripts to mimic the behaviour of 'real' users, repeatedly clicking on an advert either to increase competitor's advertising costs, or to artificially inflate their own click-through rate. Advertising networks regularly monitor traffic for signs of click fraud such as sudden surges in an advertiser's click rate.
RedOrbit is accused of a more sophisticated form of PPC fraud that Microsoft compares to money-laundering - making clicks appear to have originated from legitimate sources.
Microsoft explained in a statement: "Through various means, including malware programs, fraudsters are able to trick innocent Internet users into visiting websites where they unknowingly click on advertisements. Click launderers also can further disguise the origin of those invalid clicks by using scripts and other methods to alter information that is sent to the ad platform."
Microsoft began investigating RedOrbit.com after clicks from the website rose from 75 a day to over 10,000 in the course of just three months.
Responding to the allegations, Ralls told financial newswire Bloomberg.com: "It is RedOrbit’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. However, we do not, nor have we ever, engaged, assisted in, or condoned click fraud. We are disappointed that Microsoft has made these completely baseless allegations, and intend to defend against them vigorously."