A slightly more refined variant of cybersquatting, typosquatting involves purchasing domains that are one character away from popular Web sites and serve up ads (or malware) to clumsy typists who land there by mistake. As the Web’s biggest advertising company, Google stands to benefit from this practice since it takes a cut when users land on typosquatting sites, like Faceblook.com, that run its ads. In fact, Google benefits to the tune of nearly $500 million per annum–at least that’s what two Harvard University researchers claim in a paper they published last month with the seductive title “Measuring the Funders and Perpetrators of Typosquatting.”
As NewScientist explains, the duo got to this figure by using common spelling errors to devise a master list of potential leech sites that could be drawing revenue away from the world’s 3264 most popular .com sites, as ranked by Alexa. They then used software to crawl through a percentage of the typosquatters and from their findings extrapolated that Google could be making $497 million a year in this way.
While that’s a drop in the ocean compared to Google’s $23 billion in profits last year, it still sounds pretty shady. And it’s worth noting that one of the authors of the study, Benjamin Edelman, is co-counsel in a lawsuit seeking damages from Google for just this sort of practice. And though he says that one has no bearing on the other, it’s also worth pointing out that he hasn’t shown much interest in rival ad networks like Yahoo!, that has been grinding this particular axe since 2006, and that less than two years ago, the figure he was throwing around was just $50 million. (He also claims to have uncovered some serious privacy implications related to Google’s Toolbar.)
And no matter how brilliant Google is, policing hundreds of thousands of typosquatting sites can’t be easy–especially when you consider Google’s failure to protect its own site from typosquatting, which gave the world the one-and-only www.goggle.com.