Policing Google and Other Fun Topics: Ben Edelman

I met a very bright young man today by the name of Ben Edelman, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, who is involved in a number of interesting things from his current post on Typosquatting -- how companies reserve popular misspellings of popular website addresses, to the very interesting topic of taking on Google for a number of transgressions.  His most recent investigation looked at how the Google Toolbar tracks your browsing behavior even after you choose to disable it.

Even more fascinating are his efforts to go after Google and other online advertisers for clickfraud which leads to inflated conversion rates.   See his article on this problem.  Given the nascent nature of internet advertising and its measurement, I expect there to be a growing and interesting business in doing the type of auditing which Ben so eloquently explains.

I think there will be a lot of money in these audits because there is a robust analogy to this issue in the real world.  I knew a man by the name of Ed Hennefeld, who started a company called Bottom Line.  Ed was a seasoned retail executive having run a number of stores, and he knew all the places where a retailer could lose money in cooperative advertising, or other contractual payments.  Back in the 1980s Ed could go into a store and ask a few key questions like, "How much Maybelline do you sell?", "How many elevators do you have?" and when we got done, he could estimate how much money he could save the company because it turned out that he knew that almost everyone who dealt with Maybelline cosmetics did not correctly request the cooperative advertising dollars (e.g. matching funds for advertising) that that firm offered, and as soon as he knew how much you spent with them, he had a rough estimate as to how much he could audit and recover.  The same was true for elevator contracts, which often had rebate clauses in them for downtime, which were often not collected upon.  He had hundreds of these types of rules -- so much so that in one year he saved Wal Mart over $14 million dollars.

I believe that there will be a lot of examples of this type of value created by audits.  Some may uncover nefarious behavior, most will just uncover lack of adherence to policy and contract.  In either event, given the volume of $$ going into online and mobile advertising, it will be a fertile area.

How well do you know if your clicks are real and your bills accurate?

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