Does Google Design AdSense Contract So You're Almost Forced To Break Its Terms?
from the seems-kinda-evil dept
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.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:
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.
"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.