Does Google Design AdSense Contract So You're Almost Forced To Break Its Terms?

from the seems-kinda-evil dept

We've noted numerous times in the past that one of Google's major faults is that it's absolutely dreadful at customer service. To much of the outside world, Google represents something of a big white monolith, with very little human face. When something goes wrong, such as people locked out of their documents or a blogger having his blog deleted with no recourse, the company often appears to be nearly impossible to reach in a human way. People send emails that never get answered, or get answered in a highly automated way. Decisions are made with absolutely no recourse or real explanation. This is most clearly true in cases involving getting kicked out of Google's advertising programs. Now, it's no secret that there are a lot of folks out there looking to game the system, and Google appears to have taken a low tolerance approach to dealing with just the potential for wrong doing. Many users might actually appreciate that, but if you're suddenly kicked out without clear evidence of why, and almost no human contact to help work through the details, it certainly feels extremely cold.

The latest such example of this, as sent in by a few different folks, is from a rather successful freelance journalist who was just kicked out of Google's Adsense program, which he'd been using to make a fair amount of money in posting quite popular videos about trucks and slightly less popular videos about sailing. As the guy, Dylan Winter, explains, he feels like he's been fired by an algorithm. The piece is really kind of long -- but the crux of it is that the guy has a huge following around his truck videos, and a much smaller following around his sailing videos. But the community who view his sailing videos are pretty committed to what he's been doing with those videos, and it appears that they may be clicking the AdSense ads much more than is standard. Google's response, without any warning whatsoever, was to shut down the account. The guy complained, and got back a notice saying that after reviewing his account, the decision stands, that's it. Oh, and by the way, the guy won't be getting the thousands of dollars he'd earned in clicks since October.

We've heard this story, or variations on it, plenty of times before. I'm sure Google's response is that it has to act this way to avoid scammers from figuring out how to game the system, but it still seems really exceptionally cold. The other part that's quite interesting is that Winter claims that the AdSense terms of service -- especially if you use them on YouTube -- is written such that it's impossible to avoid violating the terms -- meaning that Google always has an excuse to kick out whoever it wants to kick out:
The contract is designed so that it is almost impossible not to break the Google rules. If you disclose site data then you are in breach. YouTube discloses just the sort of site data that would have me thrown out -- but YouTube is Google which is Adsense.

If your subscribers are clicking on adverts and not buying, then you are in breach. This is a new concept -- do not look at an advert unless you intend to buy.

[...] The website owner is to be held responsible for the activities of his site users. Imagine that being applied to cars or baseball bats or hamburgers.

Here is a great one -- if you are an Adsense account holder and you hear of another Adsense account holder who is breaking the rules then you must report them to Adsense, otherwise you too are guilty by association and will have your account disabled.

Presumably since Youtube appear to be breaking the rules as well and I have not reported them to Adsense then I am breach of the contract I ticked.
This is probably a bit of an exaggeration. I don't think the AdSense contract forbids the release of all "site data." Looking at the actual terms suggests it's a bit more limited. It does say that you agree not to disclose Google confidential info, and among the things that includes are:
"click-through rates or other statistics relating to Property performance in the Program provided to You by Google"
That appears to only apply to the clickthrough rates on ads -- which is not the sort of information that YouTube makes widely available, contrary to Winter's claim.

That said, it is true that Google does seem to have an itchy trigger finger, and a pretty broadly worded terms of service that it can almost certainly claim almost anyone violated, and it provides little real recourse. This is, of course, Google's right to do this, but I still keep wondering if this is going to come back to haunt Google. The company never seems to think that its poor customer will hurt its reputation, but this is the kind of thing that can snowball pretty fast, and it's not the sort of thing that you can just fix on the fly. This situation here may have other issues behind Google's decision to terminate (6% clickthroughs seems ridiculously high), but Google's failure to respond in a human way is getting attention again, and it still seems like a major weakness in Google's efforts.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 4:21pm

    Can you name a big tech company that doesn't use boiler-plate contracts so onerous that they can kick you off of their services whenever they want for whatever they feel like?

    I can't name one.

    You shouldn't single out Google. Amazon and everyone else are exactly the same.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 4:32pm

    Oh yes, I was also running little blocks of adverts provided by Adsense and, yes, I told my subscribers that I got some money if they visited the websites of those advertisers all of whom were interested in selling stuff to sailors.
    So he's showing only one set of ads per long video, the videos take time to buffer, and he reminds the surfers that he's getting paid for every click. My humble hypothesis is that his users were getting bored and clicking for him, with no intent of buying anything -- which is not what Google wants.

     

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  3.  
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    Transbot9, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 4:42pm

    This makes me wonder...

    While I know the manpower would be expensive, I wonder if the best way to compete with Google (and any website that has poor quality control) would be to have great customer service.

    This is a major reason why I have been rather reluctant to embed myself with Google on everything. I don't like handing over the keys to my life to any corporation.

     

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  4.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 4:47pm

    Re:

    Well that one statement is a huge violation of the terms and could explain in itself why he was cut off. Even the most brief mention that you are compensated for people clicking the ads is (IMHO) good grounds for cutting you off. Why? Because that is the most basic way people game the system.

    I am a white seo of over 8 years experience and I can tell you in the early days we use to make allot of money for our clients by having them inform their loyal reader to click. That stopped after Google started to cut people off starting in 2003 or 04 (not sure).

     

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  5.  
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    tim8w (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 4:52pm

    Yahoo is not much better

    I have been banned from Yahoo Answers without any reason except "Review the TOS". They never specified what in the TOS I violated. I have been through it line by line and can find no violation. I had a huge following of people tht I had helped who no longer get to benefit from what I know. Great going Yahoo! Answers...

     

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  6.  
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    D Mac, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:00pm

    Google also deleted my adsense account.

    They sent me a message saying that one of the lines on my blog could be construed as encouraging users to click on the ads and I had until a certain date to fix it. I was on vacation when this occured, when I rerurned I removed that line and sent them an email stating that. They then restored my adsense account and stated that my account was now in good standing. A few weeks later they disabled my account on that particular blog with no warning and no explanation. After numerous emails that got no response I finally got one that said my account was disabled on that blog for the original reason and would not ever be restored again and that there was nothing I could do about it, but that I was free to continue using adsense on my other 4 blogs.

    Google's actions make no sense and seem completely random.

     

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  7.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:14pm

    Re:

    I agree that that is not good business but I can tell you from experience that if you had been generating 25,000 page views a day and 500 ad clicks they would have talked to you. So I think it is based on click through rates versus unique page views.

    For example I had a website I did SEO/SEM for and they had around 178,000 avg unique page views a day. The website owner was happy about the traffic but he had to up his hosting plan 17 times in 9 months because of the traffic for a website not selling anything so he put a plea on his main page that people buy the products the ads were selling to help him pay for hosting. (He did this before I could tell him he could just put a "Donate" button on the site.) Google dropped his account, but after 8 or 9 emails to various people we got his account reinstated after removing the plea.

    Lesson: Small websites you have no hope.
    Big websites you can get it fixed.

     

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  8.  
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    Johnny, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:18pm

    Re:

    Clearly that IS the reason he was banned. Encouraging people to click is a well known no-no.

    However this part is just evil:

    "Google is still placing adverts against my work on Youtube. My films on there are heading for 2 million hits in December."

     

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  9.  
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    Iria, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:32pm

    Re:

    It's already breach of ToS to "remind" your visitors about clicking on ads. Not that I agree with their decision.

     

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  10.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Re:

    Sorry but not really they should have that option, they are paying for the hosting and bandwidth expenses. When you HOST your videos on any site it is allowed only because they expect to make some money on your videos or why would they allow it?

    So you can go with the easy of youtube or set up and host your own videos. (Which I can tell you will get expensive.)

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:55pm

    Google's customer service

    When complaining about Google's customer service you need to remember who the customer is - that would be the guy who pays Google for the service of delivering eyeballs.

    Everybody else is a product that Google (and Facebook et al) sells. That includes web users and content producers like Dylan.

    We are not Google's customers so why should they provide customer service to us?

     

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  12.  
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    Gracey (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:59pm

    [quote]If your subscribers are clicking on adverts and not buying, then you are in breach.[/quote]

    Well I suggest he read the terms again and understand what adsense is about. Visitors are not required to "BUY" anything. Adsense is PPC, not PPA. That would not have been the reason at all for his account being disabled. He misinterpreted the clause that I think he is referring to.

    In the end, YouTube and Adsense are simply not a good match. YouTube doesn't allow their users any way to access their Channel or video HTML in order to place any sort of protective measures. Adsense should basically stop the monetizing of videos on YouTube until they find a way to allow it's users to at least monitor their visitors.

     

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  13.  
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    Jesse, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 6:11pm

    Is it their right to make an impossible contract though? When you combine that with the laws that claim you are a hacker for violating terms of service, then you basically create a situation where a person is a felon for accepting this imploding agreement.

     

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  14.  
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    Ben in TX (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 7:02pm

    I'm glad to see you guys covering this

    I saw this on Reddit yesterday. I recognize the guy violated their ToS, but Google's customer service is just freaking horrible. I think they could easily resolve this situation without just killing the guy's Adsense acct two weeks before Christmas without even speaking to him once.

    Lame, Google... what happened to "Don't be Evil?"

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 7:27pm

    I tell you now, do not depend on Google's ads. It's a horrible way to finance your site.

    First things first...

    I got a problem with your site and your views, I don't have to confront you to make your on-life difficult. All I got to do is record a macro, have it click your ads 24 hours a day for a few days and bingo, I have made your life difficult because Google's gonna kick your financing in the hole and you won't get it back.

    Many have found this to be the case over the past years. Techdirt would be in the same boat with the industry shills haunting the site all the time. It's one of the favored tactics.

    At p2pnet.net, their Adsense ads were revoked because some of the ads tripped Googles' unsafe site detector. Why? Who knows. As with this story, no answers given beyond the boiler plate ones.

    I know for sure, no site I ever host, service, nor visit will I depend on Adsense. There is also a down side to it in my book. Since they are so dirty about it, I don't have to view their ads and I don't.

    I left ARSTechina last year over the nonsense that if you are running adblock then you are cheating them of financing. They don't make that sort of issue over there any more if I understand it. Couldn't be that they lost so much readership that no advertisers wanted to sell them ads at the same rate could it?

    What I do know is that by not viewing ads, I don't get the malware that comes through iFrames. It seems one of the continuing efforts to serve malware to the masses is to sneak one in there whenever.

    So I'm happy for Google to never serve me ads. Not on websites and not in searches.

     

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  16.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 7:59pm

    Re: Re:

    > It's already breach of ToS to "remind" your visitors about clicking on ads.

    That just seems like the biggest bunch of contradictory double-speak.

    "We put the ads there to get people to click on them but whatever you do, don't tell people to click on them, because then they might actually do it."

     

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  17.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 9:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    BTR really? The point of the ads is to get people to buy. DA

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 9:44pm

    I gave up on Google when they redesigned the news aggregation page and apparently, completely ignored pages upon pages of comments saying how much people hated it. I use Ask.com for news now. Not as good as the old Google news but close and a helluva lot better than what they have now.

     

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  19.  
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    jai, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 10:02pm

    And some people are out there thanking Google for Adsense. http://www.quickonlinetips.com/archives/2010/12/thank-google/

     

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  20.  
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    Any Mouse, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 12:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And anyone who thinks that every click MUST result in a sale is a DA, DA. Really, advertising isn't a 100% deal, and advertisers know that. An advert is there to generate interest. Interest can stick with someone a pretty long time, and be spread by word of mouth. That /might/ lead someone who never saw the advert to maybe go and buy something, but click-through != Sale.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 2:22am

    Re: This makes me wonder...

    Google nor other big giant can do that, so you can compete in costumer service.

    But realistically, you can expect to get billionaire with that, because costumer service is painful for many reasons and that makes onerous to do it right. There are many crazy people out there that think they are owned the world, not to mention bad people that would try to game anything and that is the first road block. This is not really an easy thing to solve, anyone who tried we tell you. Because of that chances are you growth will be limited by that environment and that is ok, limits are good, infinite growth is bad.

    After that said, yes one can compete with the big dogs offering better costumer service.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 2:25am

    Re: Re:

    Why do you need to ask people to click when you can redirect them automatically or use a bot straight up?

    Of course if you get caught you could end up in jail not to mention fines.

    I saw this girl once, she was making webpages for girls and was having a 7 figure income, her website was just nasty behind the curtains, it installed some dubious things that clicked on every ad in her website. The curious part is that she got on the front page of some current news lauded as a kin entrepreneur LoL

     

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  23.  
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    Mr Claypole (profile), Dec 31st, 2010 @ 2:46am

    this is pretty much what you expect from most big tech companies these days. When it's all going well, everyone is happy and the money flows. When something goes wrong, you enter 'autobot' world, where no one is willing to give you a straight answer and you spend your days receiving boiler plate responses to questions you didn't ask.

    So all you want to do is talk to someone. With Google, there's no chance. But even the companies with a phone number still manage to fail miserably. Take paypal - their phone staff must be trainee politicians as they never give a straight answer, anything other than low level account enquiries are given the response 'I'll have to look into that, and will send you an email when I am ready'. Then you re-enter autobot email world, where quite often they even forget to replace the 'insert boilerplate text here' tags.

    Even when I've tried to report customer fraud, I get given such a run around by the autobot system, that I give up. Basically, these companies are now so big, they think they can do pretty much as they please, and unfortunately they seem to be correct.

    This is why you should withdraw funds your paypal account daily, only leave a small float to cover chargebacks and expenses etc. And this is why Dylan Winter should have moved over to monthly bank transfer payments rather than taking his commissions in cheque form. That way if they pull your account, the most you can ever lose is a few weeks commissions, and bank transfers cannot be recalled like cheques.

     

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  24.  
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    Jeremy, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 7:39am

    Big Companies never believe they can fail until it smacks them in the face. Google will be just like the recording industry suing the pants off everyone to try to save their business model as they continue to fail.

    It's possible they wake up and realize that the image of being for the user has faded and it will start to impact the bottom line as they make decisions favoring entrenched dying industries.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 8:06am

    I am what is considered an Internet Entrepreneur and have put together several money making schemes on the Internet. I never spent a dime on Google and never will. AdSense and Pay-Per-Click violates common business sense. I let them put whatever advertising they want on my site(s) for people to view and I get nothing until they click. Stupid!! As a courtesy to my users I do provide a Google Search page.

    I am in business and my web pages are my store space and it is needed by me to make a certain amount of money per pixel in order to keep it going. This is the same as having a real store space. Smart store operators know that they have to make a certain amount of money per square foot every month to pay the bills. Business 101.

    Google gets over because they know people won't click on the ad, but they will still get the view and be able to sell it. The view is worth way more in value than a click. This is the same old colonial business plan we have had to corrupt the world for several hundred years. Make your money off the backs of the peasants and pay them nothing to make you wealthy. Great scam. Right out of the history books.

    Plus does anyone even use the dead links and messed up databases that Google operates now? Last year it only had good links on the first and second page. Now the links are dead even on the first page. Our company did the so-called SEO on all of our web sites and got a better ranking in Yahoo and we didn't even have to submit our site. We actually did very little work to get linked up with Yahoo.

    The only thing that keeps me coming back to Google is the simplicity of their basic site. All it has is a prompt and on slow systems that is great. Yahoo makes you wait for them to load an entire page of who knows what, but it had nothing to do with searching.

    So it looks like there is room in town for a new player. Someone with both simplicity and accuracy. What Google was in the beginning. Even Bing is slow with their graphics, but faster than Yahoo. I will have to test it now and see where it's accuracy level is.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 10:10am

    Things like this show where the extensive ad market domination and the wide internet influence of Google are a problem that almost needs some monopoly busting.

     

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  27.  
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    Rob, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 10:25am

    Re: Google's customer service

    Sorry man, but we are Google's customers. We give them our personal information, and in return they give us the various services they provide. They also have another set of customers, which you mentioned, the advertisers to whom they trade our personal information for money. If you don't like that we're customers, you can call us their suppliers or whatever, but the idea is the same: we're giving them something in exchange for them giving us something.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 2:45pm

     

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  29.  
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    Ryan Diederich, Dec 31st, 2010 @ 5:16pm

    Two Evils...

    Google is a strange company indeed, but we will see more like them in the future.

    The reason they can provide such powerful free services (their search is a major one) or gmail, calendars, blogs, whatever, is that they do their best to keep their operating expenses low.

    A growing company can be expected to reach a critical mass, the point at which they will always have customers. Companies like this include amazon, google, walmart, and the likes.

    Critical Mass means that they have enough CONSTANT customers to stay in business, that is, people who dont care about service or anything.

    At this point, the money-number-crunchers research and discover. Getting rid of customer service will make 20% of customers leave, but it will save 30% of costs. Simple math really.

     

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  30.  
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    Christopher (profile), Dec 31st, 2010 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Good point. The fact is that he should have the option of telling these people that he gets paid for when they click on these things, but that the people should only do it when they are really thinking of buying the thing that pops up.

    Google AdSense's ToS are blatantly illegal in that aspect, where you cannot tell people "Hey, I get paid if you click on these ads!"

    What if you lied and said "I don't get paid when you click on these ads!" and everyone knew that you were lying.... would you still be in violation for discouraging people from clicking on the ads.

     

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  31.  
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    Christopher (profile), Dec 31st, 2010 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Yahoo is not much better

    When any organization says "Review the ToS!" but doesn't tell you what you violated, I ask them specifically to point out WHAT I supposedly violated and which line.

    If they cannot give me that, then I threaten to file a lawsuit against them, and within a DAY I am usually reinstated because I am bullish enough and hardheaded enough to actually follow through on that.

     

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  32.  
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    Christopher (profile), Dec 31st, 2010 @ 7:20pm

    Re:

    Bingo! No, it isn't their right to make an impossible contract, to be blunt. The courts have said MANY MANY MANY MANY MANY times that a ToS that violates other laws and protections given to people in various forms by state and federal law is null and void, at least the parts that are in violation of those protections.

     

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  33.  
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    Christopher (profile), Dec 31st, 2010 @ 7:27pm

    Re: Two Evils...

    Your math is twisted. It's more like getting rid of customer service will make 60% of customers leave, but will save 5% of costs.

    Sears found that out a few years ago. So did Wal-mart.

    Sure, these are brick-and-mortar stores, but the same premise still holds true.

    Stuff like this Adsense BS is why I support STRONG AND HARSH regulation on companies.

     

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  34.  
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    Matthew Weber, Jan 2nd, 2011 @ 2:27am

    Google

    I have been kicked out of Adsense as well. I didn't even make any money (about $50.) I have switched to adbrite, and while the ads are not always as high a quality, I have actually made more money in three weeks, than I did in 10 months of using Adsense. I have also had some problems with Adbrite, however contacting them was very easy, and I received a solution within 24 hours. I never even got an automated response from Adsense.

    My next project as a blogger is to become less dependent on Google for search traffic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Matthew Weber, Jan 2nd, 2011 @ 2:31am

    Re:

    They will thank Google until their Adsense account is terminated. Then they won't be thankful any longer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 2nd, 2011 @ 1:06pm

    Re: I'm glad to see you guys covering this

    "Lame, Google... what happened to "Don't be Evil?""

    Just FYI, Google stopped adhering to that years ago. Now they are roughly as evil as most other megacorporations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Mohamed Rafeek, Jan 2nd, 2011 @ 2:39pm

    WINDOWS 7 TIPS AND TRICKS

    Windows 7 themes,windows 7 tips,windows 7 tricks,windows 7 customization,windows 7 softwares www.dewindows7.blogspot.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Pickle Monger (profile), Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 6:31am

    Grammar

    Well, even though this story is a few days old, I am back at work, it's morning and I'm crabby... So here goes:

    [...] Winter claims that the AdSense terms of service -- especially if you use them on YouTube -- is written such that it's impossible to avoid violating the terms -- meaning that Google always has an excuse [...]

    Correction: terms of service are written

    [...] The company never seems to think that its poor customer will hurt its reputation, but this is the kind of thing that can snowball pretty fast, and it's not the sort of thing that you can just fix on the fly.

    Question: "poor customer will hurt" or "poor customer service will hurt". Could be either way but the second version would make more sense, one would think...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    herbert, Jan 4th, 2011 @ 9:35am

    would be interesting to read what Google has to say. unfortunately, as they are unable to be contacted, no comments will be available. pretty disgusting attitude for them to have, but they are not interested in anything or anyone. like so many other companies/industries, money is the most important thing there is (until sufficient numbers of customers tell them to shove their service right up their dirt box!)

     

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  40.  
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    Lewis, May 1st, 2012 @ 5:20pm

    Re:

    Hmmm, looking at this from the other way around, I used Google Adwords and the clicks I paid for didn't get converted to sales. Does this mean I can request a refund because people haven't been clicking on my ads honestly?

    Google might see this behavior as sinister clicks, personally I view it as the inquisitive and flip-flop nature of people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Jinson (profile), Dec 14th, 2013 @ 3:21am

    Re:

    Google Must include some Rock hard terms and conditions for the publishers as well as advertisers for Adsense program.

    If no such rules, they need to give answer in the court.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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