Microsoft says RedOrbit site used its software to defraud advertisers

Microsoft sued a science news website this week, saying it drove its readers to click on advertisements that put money into the site's pockets while taking it away from the people who paid for the ads.

The lawsuits say RedOrbit, a seven-year-old site based in Dallas, and separately, a group of 20 anonymous defendants, engaged in a practice called "click-laundering" using proprietary software Microsoft created.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said that in both the RedOrbit and the "John Doe" case, the company was seeking an injunction preventing the defendants from conducting further click laundering and as-yet unspecified damages.

Here's how it works: When a reader clicks on a website ad, normally the reader is taken to the advertiser's web site. The advertiser pays the website "per click" based on the number of people who come to the advertiser's site.

The system can, of course, be gamed by creating automated software that runs up the number of clicks, a practice called "click fraud." At its worst, using counterfeit brands or misleading tactics, click fraud can send people to places on the Internet they shouldn't go, where malware or other fraudsters work. Meanwhile, the user is unwittingly participating in a crime.