Conflicted Clicking

April 2, 2006


A concerned net'izen writes:

I was recently browsing the internet when I came across an article
describing the most valuable "clicks" on Google AdWords. It turns out
that a search for "Mesothelioma", the disease associated with
asbestos inhalation, will bring up AdWords worth a staggering $54 a
click to Google. (I feel obligated to note that I do not suffer, nor
have I ever suffered, from mesothelioma, though I do occasionally
cough.) Knowing this, I still searched for Mesothelioma, and, as you
could guess, curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked on the
number one ad, "", just to see what was there.

Was this click fraud? Full disclosure: I own stock in Google, which further tangles this duplicitous web.

Please, Ethicysts, remove this awful burden from my mind.

– Needs Goggles for Google in NY

The assistant ethicist will take a crack at this one, NuGGeNY.

I was a child with pronounced morbid leanings, one of those kids that drew black spinning vortexi wearing my black crayolas down to little nubs while Cerulean Blue sat untouched in the back of the box. My fears of mortality were only heightened when I broke into a construction site with a friend and played king of the mountain on tremendous pile of asbestos. It was later that day that my mom warned me about the unmarked menace that lay behind that four foot chicken wire fence. For weeks afterward I would wake up in the middle of the night fearing that my pink seven year old lungs would give out at any moment. My mesothelioma fears coupled with all the other metaphysical concerns that weigh upon a agnostic pre-adolescent soon landed my in the school psychatricist office, excusing me from second period math. Thus began my long losing battle with long division.

All that doesn't really speak to your question. But, what's a blog for if not extended personal reminiscance. Ethical advice, you say? Okay, let's do to it!

I think your concern is fairly simple. The answer to your question is in the term "click fraud", at no point in the click that cost the ambulance chasers $54 did you do anything remotely fraudulent. You were interested in seeing the site that is so enamored with the sufferers of this lucrative desease that they are willing to pay so lavishly for the traffic. This is a genuine interest, your curiosity cannot be called bad faith.The idea that as a stockholder in Google you would be benifiting from this click did not enter into your decision to seek out this ad, if anything your financial interest would keep you from clicking the ad because in the long-term click fraud will do the most harm to Google Inc. If adwords become unprofitable advertisers will spend their marketing money elsewhere, and Google's adsense program will turn from magical money press to a dog of a business.

You never signed a contract that stated that you will only click on ads if you intend make the advertiser cash. These ads have been inserted into the sites you use with the intent of making all parties money. If the keyword mesothelioma becomes less profitable because of all the idle clicks from those of us not suffering from life-threatening diseases, the market will sort it out. For now, the lawyers are happy to feast on easy settlement money, the sufferers of this horrible disease can easily find some cash to pay their bills and the rest of us can click on expensive keywords knowing that rubberknecking at the intersection of tragedy and greed is only natural.

The question of where knowing manipulation of these systems to produce a net positive benefit for yourself becomes unethical is intruiging. I'll try to get the ethicist to tackle that one when he can spare a little time.

Austin Alter "Jr. Ethicist"


One Response to “Conflicted Clicking”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I can hear the dogs of AdSense beying at the door of the site right now.

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