Programmer Faces Charges Over ‘Clicks’ Invention

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES – A Southern California computer programmer faces federal extortion charges of threatening to unleash a software program that would have disrupted a Google advertising program by automating fraudulent “clicks.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California said that 32-year-old Michael Anthony Bradley had demanded $100,000 from Google Inc. to stop him from releasing the program he claimed would allow spammers to defraud Google of millions of dollars.

Bradley of Oak Park, Calif., disputed the allegations Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, telling the court that extortion was not his intent. He was released on a $50,000 appearance bond on the condition that he not use computers or try to contact Google and its employees.

Bradley told XBiz Monday that all he was trying to do was help Google’s business.

“I never tried to cause harm [to Google] – there was never that intent,” he said. “I told them that all I was trying to do was tighten up their system.”

Charged with interfering with commerce by threats or violence and mail fraud, Bradley attempted to defraud and extort money from Google by developing a software program that automates fraudulent “clicks” on “cost-per-click” advertisements utilized by Google, according to the criminal complaint. These fraudulent clicks, in turn, were designed to cause Google to make payments that were supposed to be made only for “clicks” made by legitimate Web surfers.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google provides search technology and places advertisements on sites run by others. It pays the site owners based on the number of times users click on Google-placed ads.

The complaint alleges that Bradley first sent an email requesting a meeting with Google concerning his software program, which he named “Google Clique,” in early March.

In a subsequent face-to-face meeting with Google engineers on March 10, Bradley performed a demonstration of his program and claimed that it generated false clicks that look like real Internet traffic and were untraceable, the complaint says.

The defendant allegedly stated that he would sell it to the “top 100 spammers” if Google did not pay him $100,000, forcing Google to be “out $5 million in six months.”

Bradley, who was recorded by federal agents of the San Francisco Electronic Crimes Task Force, said the public release of his program would “destroy Google,” the complaint said.

The computer programmer told XBiz that he owns a web-hosting company and that the conditions by the court to not use any computer are devastating.

“I have no income now,” he said. “The Secret Service took all my computers and servers out of my home. And if I needed to find work, I couldn’t be able to use a computer.”

Bradley, who could face 40 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500,000, is scheduled to appear again in U.S. District Court in San Jose on April 8.