An anonymous individual claiming to be a former Google employee posted detailed allegations about the search giant on Pastebin today. The self-stylized whistleblower claimed that Google managers directly ordered employees to steal money from publishers through AdSense, its ad placement service, and that the scheme has been active for years.
The anonymous poster said the subterfuge began in 2009, after Google suffered serious losses and that “many” AdSense employees were involved.
The main reason, the publishers made too much money. But something quite devious happened. We were told to begin banning accounts that were close to their payout period (which is why account bans never occur immediately after a payout). The purpose was to get that money owed to publishers back to Google AdSense, while having already served up the ads to the public.
This way the advertiser’s couldn’t claim we did not do our part in delivering their ads and ask for money back. So in a sense, we had thousands upon thousands of publishers deliver ads we knew they were never going to get paid for.
Google reaped both sides of the coin, got money from the advertisers, used the publishers, and didn’t have to pay them a single penny. We were told to go and look into the publishers accounts, and if any publisher had accumulated earnings exceeding $5000 and was near a payout or in the process of a payout, we were to ban the account right away and reverse the earnings back. They kept saying it was needed for the company, and that most of these publishers were ripping Google off anyways, and that their gravy train needed to end. Many employees were not happy about this. A few resigned over it. I did not. I stayed because I had a family to support, and secondly I wanted to see how far they would go.
A spokesperson for Google told Valleywag that the allegations were “complete fiction” and that AdSense does not operate in the way the supposed whistleblower describes:
“This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. 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.
All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers. When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher’s account and refunding affected advertisers.”
Last year, Google paid out $9 billion to 2 million publishers around the world, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. The company’s policy prohibits “Invalid Clicks.” When Google disables a publisher for privacy violations, its policy is to withhold payment for the 60 days prior and return the money to impacted advertisers. Google has previously claimed that “clickbombing” only represents a small percentage of the invalid activity on the AdSense network.
However, there have been numerous complaints over the years about Google’s “mysterious methods for determining when to ban (and when to reinstate) participants.” There was even talk of a class action lawsuit back in 2011. The charge was lead by Jason Timmons. He claimed that a nine-month investigation conducted by a team of “well trained investigators” found that Google had defrauded publishers:
The suit will allege that in the vast majority of cases which we reviewed Google has mislead and defrauded publishers by deliberately terminating accounts and withholding earnings based upon a speculative assertion that the accounts posed a risk of generating invalid activity, without any foundation to support this conclusion whatsoever.
Around the same time, MarketingLand said when publishers complained about bans, Google was more focused on its advertising customers:
Google’s argument in similar past situations is that it can’t get into too much detail about its click-fraud monitoring, as explaining its methods would give would-be fraudsters too much information about how to potentially bypass the systems in place to protect advertisers. Additionally, Google seems to focus its attention on servicing AdWords advertisers — its customers — rather than AdSense publishers, who are partners, rather than customers.
The Pastebin document alleges that Google settled legal action from publishers. That prompted AdSense schemers to come up with a new policy by December, 2012: “shelter the possible problem makers, and fuck the rest.” This is where the color-coding that Google said does not exist comes into play:
The new policy; “shelter the possible problem makers, and fuck the rest” (those words were actually said by a Google AdSense exec) when he spoke about the new procedure and policy for “Account Quality Control”. The new policy was officially called AdSense Quality Control Color Codes (commonly called AQ3C by employees). What it basically was a categorization of publisher accounts. Those publisher’s that could do the most damage by having their account banned were placed in a VIP group that was to be left alone. The rest of the publishers would be placed into other groupings accordingly.
The new AQ3C also implemented “quality control” quotas for the account auditors, so if you didn’t meet the “quality control” target (aka account bans) you would be called in for a performance review. There were four “groups” publishers could fall into if they reached certain milestones.
Google’s response to these allegations is clear. Whether or not there is any truth behind the claims on Pastebin, publishers are once again fighting back against the quasi-monopoly. Earlier this month Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Europe’s largest newspaper publisher, wrote an open letter to his friend Eric Schmidt about Google building a “superstate”:
[Döpfner] said the US company was operating a business model that “in less reputable circles would be called a protection racket”, discriminating against competitors in its search rankings. Google’s motto was “if you don’t want us to finish you off, you better pay”, he said.
Where’s the Counterforce when you really need them?
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