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Google trainee potentially causes firm $10 million in losses after goof


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A Google worker who was being introduced to the firm’s advertising systems may have inadvertently cost the firm up to $10 million in losses after accidentally pressing something they shouldn’t have. The employee apparently submitted a buy order causing a blank yellow ad to be displayed on lots of sites around the net. The error took Google 45 minutes to rectify and it said it would honour payments to publishers whose visitors had clicked the ad.


What made the incident more harmful is that the ads were placed at as much as ten times the normal market price. According to two sources, the orders were for more than $25 per thousand impressions, rather than the usual $2-$4.


Discussing the actions it took, Google said:

“An advertiser training exercise led to an error where actual spend happened on publisher sites for approximately 45 minutes. As soon as we were made aware of this honest mistake we worked quickly to stop the campaigns running.”

The ad was able to propagate even further with the assistance of third-party exchanges, which resulted in lots of users in the U.S. and Australia seeing the ad late on Tuesday California time. Google hasn’t said what will happen to the trainee but it did say that the mistake was an “honest” one.


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Why it matters: Anyone who has been in training for a new job knows how scary it can be, constantly worrying about making a mistake that could get you in trouble. So, spare a thought for the Google trainee who accidentally published a dummy advert that’s thought to have cost the firm around $10 million.

The mistake happened during a group training exercise in which Google employees were shown how to use the company’s in-house ad placing system. The Financial Times reports that one worker “went further than intended” and submitted a live buy order into the system.

The error caused a fake advert, made up of nothing more than a yellow rectangle, to appear in numerous websites and apps across the US and Australia for around 45 minutes on December 4. “As soon as we were made aware of this honest mistake we worked quickly to stop the campaigns running,” said Google, in a statement.

If that doesn't sound bad enough, the trainee placed the order at around ten times the normal price for the ads. At $25 per CPM (cost per thousand impressions), it was much higher than the usual $2 - $4 market price.

Not only was the ad placed on Google’s AdX, but it was also placed on several ad exchanges, which helped ensure it reached a wide audience. Google has promised to “honor payments to publishers for any ads purchased.” It never revealed exactly how much this mistake cost the firm, but the FT believes payments to publishers and cleanup bills put it at around $10 million.

Google says it now has safeguards in place to ensure such a costly error never occurs again. No word on what happened to the employee.


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