Is Google Playing Games?


Google just slammed Erik. No reasons. No recourse. Just thanks, buh-bye now.

Excuse me while I kick a gift-horse in the mouth.

First, let me say that Google AdSense really has been a gift. Suddenly all these little sites like mine out there with decent traffic were given an opportunity to capitalize on that traffic by simply pasting in some JavaScript code and waiting for their checks. I've made about $100 a month since June with the ads on Mobitopia, which has been perfect. It's basically allowed me to host my own web server for free. So to me, Google's service has been just a bonus.

However, if you have real traffic at your site, suddenly it's not a bonus any more, but a real business decision. You can go with Google, or you can go with other advertisers who are willing to pay you as well. Google pays pretty well, and is cheap and easy to use, so why not use them, right? Well, what did your mother tell you about stuff that seemed too easy? Google may give me high ranking or take it away, that's fine. But now we're talking about money - so it's serious.

Here's the deal. Google AdSense has serious problems with its Terms And Conditions and it's transparency.

First the TAC:

#8 Confidentiality. You agree not to disclose Google Confidential Information without Google's prior written consent. "Google Confidential Information" includes without limitation: ... (b) click-through rates or other statistics relating to Site performance in the Program provided to you by Google; and (c) any other information designated in writing as "Confidential" or an equivalent designation or disclosed in a manner in which the recipient of such information should have reasonably understood under the circumstances that the disclosure should be treated as confidential, whether or not the specific word or mark "confidential" is used. ...

Okay, so first off, I'm prohibited from sharing my click-through rates with you. Why is that? Is this standard in the online advertising world? If so, it only is there to let Google manipulate its associates, and for no other reason. Google also essentially restricts you from releasing any correspondence with them, as they could "reasonably understand" that this correspondence is confidential.

Despite their restrictions on your free speech however, Google in this paragraph reserves the rights to what they want with *your* data:

#16 Information Rights. Google may retain and use for its own purposes all information You provide, including but not limited to Site demographics and contact and billing information. Google may share aggregate (i.e., not personally identifiable) information about You with advertisers, business partners, sponsors, and other third parties. In addition, You grant Google the right to access, index and cache the Site(s), or any portion thereof, including by automated means including Web spiders or crawlers.

Nice. But Wait! Don't bend over just yet... The worst part of the TaC is the payment section. This part of the contract threw up red flags for just about everyone who read it. It's long, so I've emphasized the relevant parts:

#12 Payment. You shall receive a payment related to the number of clicks on Ads displayed in connection with your Site(s) as specified in the FAQ. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Google shall not be liable for any payment based on (a) any fraudulent impressions generated by any person, bot, automated program or similar device or for fraudulent clicks similarly generated on any Ads, as reasonably determined by Google; (b) Ads delivered to end users whose browsers have JavaScript disabled; (c) Ads benefiting charitable organizations and other placeholder or transparent Ads that Google may deliver in the event that a Site is improperly configured to comply with Google technical requirements; or (d) Google advertisements for its own products and/or services. Google reserves the right to withhold payment or charge back Your account due to any of the foregoing, any breach of this Agreement by You, or in the event that You or an advertiser whose Ads are displayed on your Site(s) defaults on any payment due to Google. The timing and delivery of such payments shall be as stated in the FAQ. To ensure proper payment, You are solely responsible for maintaining accurate contact and payment information associated with Your account. Any bank fees related to returned or cancelled checks due to a contact or payment information error will be deducted from the newly issued payment. You agree to pay all applicable taxes or charges imposed by any government entity in connection with Your participation in the Program. Google may change its pricing and/or payment structure at any time. If You dispute any payment made under the Program, You must notify Google in writing within thirty (30) days of any such payment; failure to so notify Google shall result in the waiver by You of any claim relating to any such disputed payment. Payment shall be calculated solely based on records maintained by Google. No other measurements or statistics of any kind shall be accepted by Google or have any effect under this Agreement. The payments made under this Agreement are for use by You only and may not be transferred or in any manner passed on to any third party unless expressly authorized in writing by Google.

Let's take this one at a time. First, Google gets to advertise on your website for free. Why is that? I can understand charity's and filler ads not being charged, but Google gets to use that space for what it wants and doesn't pay you? That's not right.

Secondly, Google can cut you off for any problems it encounters, but doesn't say what the recourse is for you. You can "dispute" the payment, but what then? Erik's site got cut off, and I know he wasn't messing with the clicks - what happens now? When did the infringement take place? If it happened on the 30th of September, does he somehow lose all the money earned for the rest of the month (a not-insignificant amount, by the way). Erik received this email today in place of the check that was supposed to arrive for August's clicks. Has his account been suspended for two months without anyone telling him?

Finally - and this is the part that bugs me the most - the numbers have been changing constantly. You may go to your site and get a list of click throughs and the money you've earned, and the next day, the amount of money has dropped for no reason, and then when you receive your check, the amount doesn't correspond to *anything*. Google doesn't give you a log of clicks, advertisers and fees with the check. There's no transparency at all.

Google gets to decide what they pay you for and how much, *and* they can change these rates at any time.

Fine, you say, that's just legal jargon. Any contract in the business world will seem just as arbitrary and draconian. However, in September, I earned $98.42. Now, that just happens to be $1.58 cents short of the amount that I would need for Google to send me a check. I've heard of this happening before at other sites. I've also heard of checks that are drastically different than the amounts given online, with no reasons given. One thing is a harshly written contract, another is real life examples of a company doing the worst it can do under its contract with no recourse.

Personally, I think something needs to be done about this. Is there a decent competitor to Google Ads that I can use instead? I'd really like to have an option, if only not to feel like I was getting screwed. Seriously, thanks for the Ads Google, but if you're going screw my friends like this then I don't want to have anything to do with your company because I know I'm next in line.


Update: Erik asked for clarification, and got this slap in the face in return:

As you know, Google treats instances of invalid click activity very seriously. Due to the proprietary nature of our algorithm, we cannot disclose any details about how our monitoring technology works or what specifics we found on your account. However, we can assure you that we have again reviewed your situation thoroughly and accurately, and could re-confirm that your account violated our program's Terms and Conditions.

Have you *ever* heard such bullshit in your life? They aren't going to tell him what the problem was and we're just supposed to believe them? Erik didn't do anything wrong - he didn't need to with his traffic - yet Google has pronounced him guilty of fraud without proof or justification. Amazing.

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