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Comscore, the internet’s traffic judge, settles fraud charges for $5 million

Comscore, the internet’s traffic judge, settles fraud charges for $5 million

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Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images for AWXII

Comscore, the influential analytics firm that measures web traffic, has been formally accused of falsely reporting its own revenue and customer numbers. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Comscore and its former CEO Serge Matta with fraud today. Matta and Comscore agreed to settle the case for a total of $5.7 million without admitting wrongdoing.

The SEC writes that between 2014 and 2016, Comscore padded its public revenue filings with an extra $50 million by misreporting the value of data-swapping contracts with other companies. It also allegedly misreported its customer numbers and growth percentages, giving the impression that new signups and revenue growth were increasing when the opposite was actually true.

As part of the settlement, Comscore and Matta will respectively pay penalties of $5 million and $700,000. Matta will also repay $2.1 million to Comscore and be banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years.

This is a major step in a long-running controversy. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Comscore’s sketchy accounting in late 2015, noting that its bartering system “warrants scrutiny.” Comscore began an audit in 2016 — leading to years of instability as it corrected the false numbers, including a temporary delisting from Nasdaq. A March 2018 filing revealed that it was cooperating with the SEC on an investigation. Earlier this year, the company’s CEO Bryan Wiener and president Sarah Hofstetter both resigned due to “irreconcilable differences.” Matta left the company in 2016.

Despite these problems, Comscore is one of the core companies responsible for measuring success online — similar to Nielsen ratings for television.