Tech Stories: The Early Ad Click Scam

After working at the shady warehouse over in Irvine, I switched to an ecommerce company dealing mostly with racing parts. The margins were higher (according to the CTO and founder) which would make the business a little more profitable. Regardless, these parts were being cataloged by a team of data entry people located on the floor above us in this building along Bristol. Because data entry is pretty menial the pay is low and people would try to find other means to increase their salary…even nefarious methods.

Because it was the early days of the internet, there weren’t as many regulations. It really was the wild west back then and people would try any kind of scam. One of scams that the data entry people were partaking in was this downloadable ad toolbar. Essentially, it would render a small but wide ad and whenever you clicked on the ad, you would make a small amount of money.

I forget how many people were doing this upstairs but I remember it being close to the entire data entry team. We didn’t have a proper IT staff to ensure that the PCs would be locked down. The one IT guy we did have mostly just installed virus scanners and formatted the disks. Occasionally, he would even upgrade the ram. So this allowed the manager for the data entry group to pretty much get the others under her to run this program.

If memory serves me correctly, then it was a pyramid scheme where referrals netted you some sort of bonus. In short, the manager was getting a slightly increased bonus on top of the ads she was clicking. It wasn’t a huge amount of money by any stretch of the imagination but you could score enough for say a few extra meals every month.

Now, I’m dead certain that the ad toolbar company is dead. If not then they probably tried to reinvent themselves a few times until people panned them. I doubt the companies paying the ad company money to run their banner ads made anything since hardly anyone bought things back then.

What’s funny though is that the little side scam that girl manager was running on the side would eventually blossom into large scale click farms in the future. I’m not saying she invented the idea herself but upon hearing how these operations would exist in countries like India, I pretty much died laughing.

For myself, I never participated in anything like that except maybe trying to make a few cents off my own ads years ago. However, AdSense banned me so I never gave it a second thought. In fact, I still for the most part run adblockers and kill off most annoying Javascript on content sites. Maybe that whole thing just gave me an inherent dislike for ads since that whole business is built off of chicanery.

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