RealTime IT News

Feds Arrest Alleged Google Extortionist

The U.S. Secret Service has arrested and charged a Southern California man for allegedly creating software code to register fraudulent clicks on Google's AdSense program and attempting to extort money from the search giant.

The case centers around a program called "Google Clique," which was allegedly written by 32-year-old Michael Anthony Bradley to surf and click on Web ads displayed by the Google AdSense program.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Bradley met secretly with Google's engineers in early March and attempted to extort $100,000 by threatening to release the program for widespread use by spammers.

At that meeting, which was recorded by federal agents, Bradley allegedly made his demands with a threat to "destroy Google" if the money was not paid.

Bradley was arrested last week and charged in a San Jose, Calif., district court with interfering with commerce by threats or violence and mail fraud. He was released on $50,000 bond and banned from using computers, accessing the Internet or contacting Google or its employees. The software programmer is scheduled to appear again in court on April 8.

Bradley could not be reached for comment at press time. In the Wall Street Journal report, he proclaimed his innocence and insisted it wasn't his intent to blackmail the Web search firm. He said he contacted Google to help unmask flaws in its AdSense system, which displays text ads from third-party advertisers.

However, on his Web site (which is offline but remains in Google's cache), Bradley describes the "Google Clique" program as auto-click software for Google AdSense.

On the site, which contains numerous misspellings and grammatical errors, Bradley wrote, "Clique uses the Holland Tunneling engine, that allows Clique to surf and click on Google AdSense Ads from hundreds of thousands of IP's from around the globe, completely untracable! [sic] And *NO* this is not to be confused with socks/proxy . . . "This is the same engine that allows spammers to hide thier [sic] own IP while pumping millions of emails into such services as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, MSN."

He boasted that the program could generate around $3,000 a month per AdSense account and even recommended that spammers set up multiple accounts. "[W]e have been able to generate in excess of $30,000 per month using Google Clique across 10 AdSense accounts."

On the site, Bradley spoke of visiting Google and demonstrating the software, noting that the company was far behind in their ability to track fraudulent clicks. "I must admit, they were very nice to me and we sat down and I did the demo of Google Clique. They had questions, some relevent [sic] and some first year programming if you ask me, but none the less, they found Google Clique to be a serious threat to thier company," Bradley wrote.

"However, they are a little full of them selfs (not the people in the meeting, but Google as a whole) for they didn't even have a member of the legal team in the meeting, nor anyone with a corporate title," he wrote.

According to the SEO Book blog, Bradley was selling the "Google Clique" software for $1,000 down and about $250 per month as recently as March 14.

SEO Book also reported that Bradley planned to launch another program called "Reaper" that promised to "aggressively autoclick on a competitors site to get them removed from Google AdSense program."