A suspected former Google employee has anonymously posted unconfirmed allegations that AdSense purposely banned Publisher shortly before their regular payouts in order to keep their advertising revenue. However, Google denies this as “complete fiction,” and upon examining the report, the allegations look false. Mechanisms may have been in place to prevent publishers from being scammed in this way, and linguistic clues suggest the author did not work for Google.
At our request, Google TechCrunch provided this statement, in which the allegations are firmly denied:
“This description of our process of enforcing our AdSense policies is completely fictional. The programs for color coding and “extreme quality control” described by the author do not exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop malicious actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users.
There is no hard evidence in the report, and the whole thing could just have come from a deserted publisher or someone else who is trying to harm Google. Still, it could spark an investigation into AdSense’s banning process, or at least a loss of confidence among AdSense publishers, even if that’s not true.
The whistleblower claims to have been with Google since at least 2009 and says he waited for his identity to be concealed before coming forward. They wrote on Pastebin, “To sum it up for everyone, I participated in what I (and many others) would call the theft of money from the publishers through Google and direct instructions from management.”
The unconfirmed allegations
The full document is a bit meandering, hence the main points here.
According to the source, Google experienced some stumbling blocks in the finance department in 2009 and decided to go ahead “We have to tighten our belts”. The perception was that Google was writing too many and too large checks to the publishers and was trying to limit them. To that end, a new quality control initiative was launched to ban publishers making more than $ 5,000 a month using AdSense, starting with a wave of bans in March 2009.
What alarmed the alleged employee was that “we were instructed to suspend accounts that were close to their payout deadline … The purpose was to get the money owed to publishers back to Google AdSense while the ads were already running to the public.” That way, Google would be paid by the advertisers, their ads would appear on the publishers’ sites, but the publishers would be banned before receiving their payout for serving the ads, and Google would keep the money, he claimed.
Google employees were reportedly told that “it’s needed for the company and that most of these publishers are ripping Google off anyway and that their gravy train has to come to an end”. Employees who didn’t go along with the plan were ridiculed for not being team players and some quit, the employee said.
Next, Google supposedly wanted to automate the process further, so it set up the “AdSense Quality Control Color Codes ”system that identified lucrative publishers for prohibition and protected larger companies and anyone else who could harm Google with negative press or by stirring up anti-AdSense sentiments among publishers.
Finally, the whistleblower suggests that Google was aware of a practice known as “click bombing”, in which a publisher repeatedly clicked on a competitor’s ads in order to use Google’s fraudulent system to mark and block them for self-clicking.
Obviously, someone who wants to hurt Google could get a lot of success posting these allegations. This motive prompted us to examine the document carefully for possible warning signs. We found many.
First the language. The author is referring to the “AdSense Division” of Google and not the official internal title “Online Sales And Operations”. He’s referring to “being a team player,” but down in Mountain View they call that “being googley.” It also refers to “invalid clicks”, which Google refers to as “click spam” much more often. “Click bombing” is an internally unused term that we have heard and that only accounts for a fraction of all invalid clicks.
The report also makes many claims about the problems with these so-called “invalid clicks”. While it’s true that competitors sometimes click on other’s ads, Google’s detection system is pretty sophisticated. It can detect when clicks are from the publishers themselves, which results in them being banned, but it can also detect when the clicks are from an inexperienced internet user. In this case, some of the clicks will be ignored, but not all. And it can also detect if they are from some other malicious party and then ignore those clicks from all google publishers.
Then there are the functional discrepancies. It is believed that AdSense billing requires a publisher to be paid in order to be billed to an advertiser. This would block Google’s ability to charge an advertiser but not pay the publisher. Google’s guidelines state that if a publisher is banned for policy violations, “Payment is made for the 60 days prior to deactivation held back and the money will be refunded to the advertisers concerned. “
The report also states that employees who wanted to use AdSense on their websites were “automatically placed in the green group”, which the poster describes as VIP status or the “untouchables”. That is not entirely the case. In reality, all Google employees with an AdSense account would have to get approval from the VP to use AdSense on their sites and those accounts would then be scrutinized.
And the biggest inconsistency of all is simply that this strategy of making money in the short term would decimate Google’s long term revenue potential. Why would Google sacrifice all of a publisher’s future revenue just to generate a month or billing cycle worth of revenue? The economy is simply not right. Google works with more than 2 million publishers and paid out $ 9 billion last year. It just doesn’t make sense to burn these publishers for a quick slump in sales.
With so much evidence that the whistleblower isn’t a Google employee and the whole system is dysfunctional, it’s hard to believe the report.
Once you have a grasp of the language an ex-Googler would use and the economic ramifications of those claims (if any), the “leak” seems more like the accusations of a disgruntled, banned editor than anyone who is familiar with Google’s internal processes, language, and AdSense platform as a whole.
[Image Credit: Futurama via KnowYourMeme, SolSystems]