7Search, a leading Pay Per Click Search Engine Advertising and Affiliate Network, along with a few other search and domain parking companies, have been accused of traffic stealing in eye-opening research paper titled Understanding the Dark Side of Domain Parking.
The paper, presented at the 23rd USENIX Security Symposium, was researched and written by Sumayah Alrwais, Indiana University Bloomington and King Saud University; Kan Yuan, Indiana University Bloomington; Eihal Alowaisheq, Indiana University Bloomington and King Saud University; Zhou Li, Indiana University Bloomington and RSA Laboratories; XiaoFeng Wang, Indiana University Bloomington.
In the paper, the authors accuse 7Search of traffic stealing:
For example, we confirmed the existence of traffic stealing from monetization chains captured by our crawler connecting three of our domains (parked with PS5) and our PPR campaign with 7Search. This was achieved through comparing the billing reports provided by 7Search, the parked domains’ revenue reports provided by the parking service and the related monetization chains with the right combination of time stamp, source IP address, referral domain and keyword. It turns out that we, as a campaign owner, were billed for 23 traffic hits by 7Search (see Figure 6(b) in Appendix) but nothing was reported by the parking service (see Figure 6(a) in Appendix) in December 2013. We show the breakdown of the crawlers’ traffic in Table 6. Clearly, the parking services kept the rightful share away from us as the owners of the parked domains. Note that not all requests from our crawler were billed by 7Search because they limit the traffic hits by one IP address and a valid visiting period (our campaign was set to run between 12AM-6AM and 10PM-11:59PM ). Additionally, we found other monetization chains, captured by our crawler and monetized by the same parking service through other ad networks such as Advertise that have not been reported on our parked domains’ revenue reports.
Table 6, referred to in the above quote, is shown below:
Traffic Reported by Domain - Crawler - Parking Svc - Billed by 7search Coupons-free.info 24 0 16 Real-jobs.info 23 0 5 News-feed.info 21 0 2 Table 6: Traffic stealing through 3 of our parked domains in the month of December, 2013.
7Search isn’t the only company named in this paper. It’s also important to note the methodology, as stated by the authors:
The idea. As discussed above, the problem of detecting illegitimate operations, which we did not have a direct observation of, comes down to identifying the monetization options they involve. More specifically, as soon as we know exactly how a parking service monetizes a visit from our crawler, we can immediately find out whether a fraudulent activity occurred: clearly, the PPC option is a fraudulent click, as our crawler never clicked; when it comes to PPR, we check the consistency between the keywords expected by the end nodes and the names of the parked domains the traffic went through…”
I agree with the authors of this paper, who say the following in their abstract: “Domain parking is a booming business with millions of dollars in revenues. However, it is also among the least regulated: parked domains have been routinely found to connect to illicit online activities even though the roles they play there have never been clarified…”
Domain parking is a huge business. And it’s not regulated. There apparently has been, and continues to be, fraud going on in the domain parking industry. This is the first paper I’ve seen in a long time that details tested the “dark side” of domain parking, and is attempting to expose it.
I’ve reached out to 7Search for their comment, and once they get in touch with me I’d be happy to update this post with their comments about the accusations.
I spoke with a representative from one of the companies mentioned in the paper, who wishes to remain anonymous. They emphasized that the paper really does not mention Google or Yahoo! at all. The Google or Yahoo! feeds are not mentioned, and the illicit activities or traffic stealing apparently was on parking feeds that were not from Google or Yahoo!.