Update: After further investigation, it's likely the Google Will Eat Itself project is indeed ia hoax - though those behind it say that it's not.
A band of wily European performance artists say that for more than two and a half years, they have used an ongoing Google click fraud scheme as a means of acquiring hundreds of shares in Google stock. With this online ploy - dubbed Google Will Eat Itself - Hans Bernhard and his cohorts hope to eventually buy the entire company and turn it over to the people.
At the current rate, they say, the project will reach completion in about 202,345,117 years. But if you join the scheme, they insist, Google's self munch is all the closer. "If 10 million people start doing the same thing we're doing," says Hans Bernhard, a Vienna-based artist, "then Google would eat itself within a relatively short period of time."
The Self Munch
Berhard calls Google Will Eat Itself an "auto-cannibalistic system." He and his pals claim that they run about 50 hidden web sites packed with Google ads and that they regularly generate clicks on these ads via an army of carefully-controlled online bots. "This isn't that hard to do if you have the technical skills. Google's system is not perfect." The trick, Bernard says, is to keep each bot below Google's click fraud threshold.
At the end of each month, Google forks over money for these clicks, they say, and they slip the money into a secret Swiss bank account. And when there's enough for another Google share, they buy another Google share. As it stands, they say, they've gobbled up 819 shares - a stake worth about $405,405.
Of course, ad funds coming from Google are first coming from Google advertisers.
"By short-circuiting Google's advertising system, we're having Google buy itself - though in the end we actually own the shares," Bernard says. "But this is not a criminal practice. We will give the shares back to the general public - general internet users."
Google acknowledges that at least 10 per cent of its ad clicks are fraudulent. Independent research firm Click Forensics says the industry wide rate is 16.2 per cent. And some victimized advertisers put the rate much higher. But you have to wonder if Google Will Eat Itself is just a bit of fun.
When we contacted Google, it said that it does not comment on individual AdSense users. According the Google Will Eat Itself site, the Mountain View search giant has turned off at least some of the group's click-generating sites ®