YouTube visitors watch more than six billion hours of video every month, but not all of those eyeballs are real. Google says it will crack down on "fraudulent views" on YouTube from channels seeking to artificially inflate their view counts.
"When some bad actors try to game the system by artificially inflating view counts, they're not just misleading fans about the popularity of a video, they're undermining one of YouTube's most important and unique qualities," wrote software engineer Philipp Pfeiffenberger in a blog announcing the news. YouTube has always audited videos in an effort to try to spot inflated counts, but the company was stepping up its efforts according to Pfeiffenberger.
He said: "While in the past we would scan views for spam immediately after they occurred, starting today we will periodically validate the video's view count, removing fraudulent views as new evidence comes to light.
"We don't expect this approach to affect more than a minuscule fraction of videos on YouTube, but we believe it's crucial to improving the accuracy of view counts and maintaining the trust of our fans and creators." The move follows a warning delivered by YouTube to its network of channel owners in November last year, with another blog post warning against paying companies to lift view counts.
"If you're considering paying someone to increase your view count, you may want to think again. You probably won't get what you paid for," the post said.
"Views generated by some third-party businesses and services will not be counted on YouTube, and can lead to disciplinary action against your account, including removing your video or suspending your account."
YouTube's motivation for cracking down is partly about making its service more appealing to advertisers, so they can be sure their ads are being seen by real people. It is also likely to be related to the company's desire for channel-owners to build their audiences by paying to use its TrueView ads system.
YouTube is far from the only social media service attracting companies promising to artificially inflate metrics. Twitter followers and Facebook Likes are all buyable by the thousand online, for example.
In April last year, Italian researchers claimed there may be as many as 20 million fake Twitter accounts created by companies selling their followers to brands.