Newsweek and IBT caught buying, manipulating web traffic
Several web companies owned by Newsweek are buying and manipulating traffic, according to report in BuzzFeed. Artificially boosting readership allows the media company to sell ads at higher rates. And since a US government agency made a huge ad buy from a Newsweek media company last year, the company may be liable for fraud.
IBTimes.com, the publisher’s US business site, last year won a significant portion of a large video and display advertising campaign for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency. Social Puncher, a consulting firm that investigates online ad fraud, alleges in its report that the ads were displayed to an audience on IBTimes.com that includes a significant amount of “cheap junk traffic with a share of bots.”
The CFPB’s ad budget was the subject of criticism from Republican lawmakers after the Daily Caller reported last year that it had awarded more than $40 million in contracts to a single ad agency, GMMB, which is one of the top Democratic media strategists. (A portion of money in those contracts was used to pay media outlets for advertising space, and was not kept by GMMB.)
The CFPB was created in 2011 as a result of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. President Trump recently tweeted that the bureau “has been a total disaster,” and installed his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, as its new director.
Neither the CFPB or GMMB are accused of taking part in, or having knowledge of, ad fraud on IBTimes.com.
A CFPB spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the bureau is looking into the allegations raised in Social Puncher’s report.
“We take allegations of fraud very seriously. Acting Director Mulvaney is actively looking into the work done by GMMB, and these allegations [of ad fraud by IBTimes.com] will be investigated as part of that process,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, GMMB acknowledged that IBTimes.com was part of the media buy, but disputed the report’s estimate of the money spent.
“While we don’t provide specific details about our client work, many of the assertions in the report—including all of the numbers reported for the ad buy—are inaccurate,” the statement said.
In other words - yeah, we're buying traffic but it really isn't so bad because that $40 million number is wrong.
There are many ways to boost web traffic, including search engine optimization programs and posting questionable stories that serve as clickbait for the masses. But boosting readership numbers by buying fake traffic should be a crime, if the fraudulent numbers allow the company to sell advertisements for more than they ordinarily would be able to do.
Newsweek admits the fraud, saying they "use third-party platforms to verify and filter this traffic to ensure it is of the highest quality." High quality bots? Sheesh.
Fourteen years ago when I began blogging, there were several sites where you could "buy" traffic. Actually, the audience was other bloggers who also purchased traffic. For $20 you could buy 1000 hits, tripling your traffic for the day. Advertising wasn't involved - it was just a way to get noticed.
But Newsweek and its companies defrauded the American taxpayer by goosing its numbers and presenting the altered traffic as the basis for advertising rates. That's a criminal act. It will be interesting to see how the FCC views this.