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How Fat Fingers Could Earn Google $500M This Year

Nobody likes knockoff Web sites -- no one but Google (GOOG), that is, since the search giant is poised to turn a healthy profit on them. A study by two Harvard professors found that "typosquatting," the practice of creating bogus Web sites to capitalize on common misspellings of popular domain names, could earn Google up to half a billion dollars in sleazy, unearned advertising revenue this year.

Typosquatters register domain names that seem similar to the original -- say, bbnet.com or bnett.com. If enough users end up there by accident, the sites can start to run Google ads targeted to keywords in much the same way legit Web sites do.

The study -- using a delightful measurement the authors dubbed "fat finger distance" -- found that the 3,000 most popular sites on the net are each targeted by an average of 280 typosquatting variants. This translates to roughly 68 million visits a day to typosquatting sites, nearly 60% of which run ads through Google.

One of the professors behind the study, Benjamin Endelman, is also co-counsel in a ongoing lawsuit seeking damages from Google over typosquatting.

Google's policy is to remove ads from bogus sites if the legitimate owner of a trademarked domain complains -- but it can be tough for companies to keep up with the torrent of fakes.

The lawsuit demands that Google to go after the source by looking into certain individuals who control thousands of these fake domains. The Harvard study found that this activity was highly concentrated. Among the tens of thousands of typo sites showing Google ads, 63% use one of five advertising IDs.

Nobody expects Google to police the Internet, but making money off fakes is another thing. And you'd think the company would empathize. After all, Google won a similar lawsuit back in 2005 that awarded it control of those pesky Google imitators.