Google Acquires, Turns Up The Heat On Ad Fraud

Well Known Anti-Malware Team Will Fight Bots For Google

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Google has acquired, a British web security firm that makes its living fighting ad fraud, the company announced today.

The acquisition brings one of the world's most respected anti-malware teams in-house at Google. Over the past few years, Spider has unearthed a number of giant botnets and digital fraud operations, including one that implanted malicious ads on Google-owned YouTube across a reported 3.5 million desktops.

"It's an industry-wide problem and it's something that if we don't address as an industry, it's going to impact all of us," said Google VP display advertising Neal Mohan in an interview with Ad Age.

All seven Spider team members have already joined Google's anti-fraud team, Mr. Mohan said, which numbers over 100 and is made up of PHDs, data scientists and computer scientists. The short term goal, Mr. Mohan said, is to "take some of the insights and technology that has built, combine it with the technology investment that we have going on already to ensure that our inventory is one of the cleanest and most well lit environments." This will mean including Spider's technology in Google's video and display offerings, which Mr. Mohan said will take place largely behind the scenes.

The move comes at a time of heightened awareness of the serious fraud problem festering within the digital advertising industry. The issue was discussed at length at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Annual Leadership Meeting earlier this month, which was filled with conversations, both official and not, of the problem's scope and ways to fix it.

Joe Zawadzki, CEO of ad-tech company MediaMath, said the deal will benefit Google and, eventually, the rest of the industry. "Being tough on fraud is a competitive advantage," he said. "I think it will create more awareness that this is important and create a need for Google's competitors to become more aggressive in their own efforts."

Mr. Mohan said the acquisition is about more than simply giving Google a leg up: "Our approach is to try to do the right thing on behalf of the industry because that's going to grow the pie for everybody."

Google says little about the way it combats ad fraud, though it's known to be one of the leaders in the industry. When asked, Mr. Mohan gave little insight into how the Spider team will physically take on malware. "A lot of the purveyors of this fraud are very nimble in terms of the technologies and techniques that they use," he said. "So I'm not going to disclose anything that would give any of that away because we don't want the fraudsters to figure out what we're doing."

Still, Mr. Mohan said Google has turned down applications from millions of fraudulent websites that tried to sign up for its network. The staggering number shows the overwhelming size of the fraud problem Google, and the rest of the industry, is doing battle with.

The size of the deal was not disclosed, though a Google spokeswoman said it was not large enough to require disclosure in SEC filings. Spider, Mr. Mohan said, wound down its existing business before Google's acquisition.

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