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Google Adsense whistleblower story may be fake but not without truth

A deep throat has spoken up regarding Google Adsense banning habits, and their entire mail can be read here. The Next Web has already written about it , and discussion forum boards were hopping all day yesterday dissecting the accusations. That Google bans websites from Google adsense, seemingly on a whim isn't new to us at all, so here's our full disclosure: We were banned in 2011 due to a tame Sloggi advert that someone considered adult content, which only happened to coincide with our Adsense account actually making money instead of the spare change we used to get. Total coincidence. We were reinstated as the advertising tradepress (Dagens Media) and national newspapers (Metro Sweden) wrote about it, and it got the attention of someone at Google Ireland whom we had a nice chat with, as they apologized and unbanned us. Then in january 2012 we were banned again for showing lingerie. This ban was lifted within a few weeks of emailing Googles Bots, but in December 2012 Google Banned us again, this time for both adult content and "VIOLENCE/GORE". All of these bans happened close to a payout period, locking in our earnings. All of the communication, except the phone call from Ireland prompted by the national press taking notice, was with automatically generated emails and no human interaction.

In short, publishers relying on Google Adsense for money is risky. You can not, as a publisher, rely on Adsense for income as it can be taken away at any moment, for any reason, including due to comments made on your website. As we've already stated, holding publishers to a higher standard than advertisers - abusive porn banners have run on Google Adsense - has the chilling effect of censoring the press as we'll avoid reporting on that advertising lawsuit because it's a brand of lingerie. For Advertisers this also means that if you want to target a specific site with your ads, there's no telling if they'll still be showing Adsense ads when you've placed your order.

Now, the deep throat mail is quite long, but the major point is that Google bans Adsense account holders willy-nilly simply to pocket the money themselves. Of course Google has already issued a denial to sites like the next web, and the tech sites are all too willing to believe it.

Some argue that Google are shooting themselves in the foot. After all, Google takes 32% of every Adsense click, so if an account makes 10,000 Google will take a nice 32% chunk of that. However, the publisher isn't the one sending money to Google, the advertiser is. Have you checked Google lately? They'll tell you the weather, how to get to work with the bus, even show you decent things to do nearby. All of this is information you used to go to other websites for, now you don't have to and Google takes 100% of the revenue on their own properties. The Google Earnings show that the revenue is $3.4B on network $10.5B on Google properties and a measly $1.5B on "other". The trick is just to make the other properties vanish and Google will earn more. How much does an advertiser know about where their ads appear when they use Google Adsense? Not much apparently, as pirate sites have displayed ads from big brands via Adsense, making brands like Pepsi take the heat. News websites reporting on advertising news = bad. Pirate websites offering downloads of copyrighted music = fine. No brand wants to sully their name in this fashion, so a wise brand manager would turn away from Google Adsense and use online advertising companies with a less opaque targeting system. It's not a coincidence that "advertorials" newly renamed as "native ads" are hot property right now. It's about much needed control over where and how the brand is seen.

Let this sink in: Google's getting a large cut of the money off of Adsense. Publishers (including Adland) aren't happy with Adsense because so many sites are banned coincidentally around pay out time. And Google clearly aren't hiding the fact they would rather monetize their own search engine further than have you visit other sites where their only footprint is Adsense. With this in mind, you'd think the whistle blower manifesto wouldn't be so hard to believe.

And yet, Techcrunch runs with the headline Google Denies Shady Claim That AdSense Robbed Publishers, and ask: "Why would Google sacrifice all future earnings from a publisher just to snatch a month or one billing period worth of revenue? The economics just don’t add up. " Didn't I just make that clear? Google can take 100% of the profit when Adsense is used on their own properties - Youtube, Blogger, News etc, instead of scattered around the web on competing sites. That makes a lot of economic sense.

But Techcrunch does have a point, if you were a "whistleblower" who stuck around for a while just to see what would happen, why haven't you left the building with scores of documents proving it, a la Snowden? They say it sounds more like a disgruntled publisher than a Google Employee, and that's interesting in itself. There are so many disgruntled former Adsense publishers we'll likely never find the culprit. Just pick from from the many results on an "Adsense banned" Google search.

The whistleblower mail says that things changed at Google in 2009, and that it got worse in April 2012.

After that point there was a running gag amongst fellow co-workers where we would walk by each other and whisper "Don't be evil, pft!" and roll our eyes.

Google have, naturally, issued a denial. They rebuff the entire claim of Adsense fraud.

"This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction," said a Google spokesperson. "The color-coding and "extreme quality control" programs the author describes don't exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users."

It's interesting that so many humans work so hard to "stop bad actors", yet if one publisher, like us, attempts to resolve an issue all we are met with are automatically generated bot-mails, unless the national press writes about our ban. It should come as no surprise then that there's many publishers out there frustrated with Google Adsense, as evident in the thread at Hacker News where former Adsense publishers are creating accounts just to share their horror stories.

As a large publisher, we have witnessed both the $10,000 and $5,000 thresholds. It's simply true. We are now using other networks and directly working with advertisers, and our AdSense revenue is $4,500 (total ad revenue is $25,000+/mo). We also quite presciently considered making a PR stink after the first AdSense ban (we were re-instated later), but decided this could tarnish the image of our company and of our product for our clients- AdSense revenue was not important enough.
Even though after the initial ban (when we overshot $10,000/mo) we were OK'ed by a contact in their Policy Team and re-instated (a contact we found after a lot of work), EVERY time when we bounced back to $10,000 and then to $5,000 after scaling down, we would have new vague and inane threats from AdSense about our perfectly NORMAL UGC ,as if the initial conversation with their Policy has never taken place.
We basically migrated away from AdSense, but if their are ANY SERIOUS LAWYERS here interested in a class action, we have a WEALTH of DETAILED documentation. ANAL, but it's definitely interesting: we have never encountered such a SHITTY treatment by any other company, and we have about 1,500 corporate clients. Once again, we never did anything shady or different than some other publishers that are apparently Green-listed by Google.

Perhaps someone should look into this properly, after all Google had to pay a $500M fine for Canadian drug ads running in the USA, putting "an embarrassing investigation to rest". Maybe it's time to start embarrassing Google again?

Update April 30 - There's been a response from the Google Whistleblower here:

Lastly, and more importantly, there has been lots of talk about my information not stating any names and that I did not provide any hard proof. Many individuals have brushed off my information as a falsehood solely due to that and claim that I have nothing substantial. I want you to go a reread my previous information release. Where did I exactly say I did not have proof or hard evidence?

Because I do. I have communications. I have documents, I have files, I have lists, and I have names. I have all of it. Like I said from the beginning, I have carefully waited and carefully planned everything out. I do everything with reason and purpose. I have to be exceptionally careful in every way. So you ask why haven’t I released it? The answer, if I release everything I have now, it will give Google too many possible avenues to discover my identity. Also doing thing such as publicly naming people and giving Google a pre-emptive look at what I have will only make them prepare for the class action lawsuit that will hit them. They won’t be caught off guard and they will have time to come up with excuses and explanations in attempts to rid themselves of this issue. I do not want that to happen. I want the people to win. I want those who had money they earned, that was stolen from them, to get the right to fight for it on equal grounding. That is why I have chosen to only release it to the legal representatives of the class action lawsuit against Google in regards to AdSense. If those representative decide to release it, then it is up to them, but right now as it stands, I will not. I will carefully monitor the situation and wait to see how it forms and pick the right timing for the release of the evidence to the legal representatives. If several months go by and no class action lawsuit manifests, then I will have to selectively release a few key pieces of evidence to the public at large.

The information and evidence I have is extensive and quite detailed, it will also paint a very different picture of what Google is really like to the public.

For those who have a difficult time believing my information I ask you to simply ask Google and their representatives the right questions related to my first release of information. Force them to answer those questions specifically. Ask them “is there a VIP status for publishers”, ask them “why do account bans always seem to occur just before payouts”, ask them “why do you fail to provide reasons and evidence of your allegations against publishers”. Keep asking such questions, keep digging, and you will come to find out by yourselves that everything I have stated is completely true. Like many have said, it will be difficult for them to hide it now.

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I have no dog in the AdSense fight. I do wonder why folks cannot bridge the gap between Google Properties and Other, which is every site not blogger, youtube, google, all the rest of google thingys right down to gmail.

Techdirt removes ads from news stories when threatened by AdSense

(..)we received an email from the AdSense sales team, forwarding an email from the AdSense "policy team," saying that the ads on [redacted by me due to missing URL] violated AdSense's policies, and that we had three days to stop monetizing the page or our account would be shut down. The specific concern was that AdSense's policy includes this:

Google ads may not be placed on pages with adult or mature content.
This includes, but is not limited to, pages with images or videos containing:
Strategically covered nudity
Sheer or see-through clothing
Lewd or provocative poses
Close-ups of breasts, buttocks, or crotches

We immediately appealed the decision, noting the ridiculousness of the claim. It was clearly a news story, not "adult" content. One of the videos in question was even hosted on YouTube and had Google ads enabled on that video. In fact, we've since discovered that both of the videos in question are on YouTube and have Google ads. You can see the [original video here] and the [Bow Wow video here]. Both of them are monetized by YouTube with Google ads. And yet, somehow we're the ones violating Google's policies?

The other interesting part from the post is Free Range Content, the owner of Repost.us filed Class Action Suit against AdSense

The case was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro on behalf of Free Range Content, the California-based owner of Repost.us, which had been using AdSense to display ads. Free Range Content alleges that it first noticed an unusual jump of $40,000 in its AdSense earnings this past February. The company says that it reported the anomaly to Google, and was scheduled to speak with an AdSense representative on March 6 when Google disabled their account two days before the call. Google, the suit alleges, refused further contact with Free Range Content.

That folks is primary source data, not heresay.