Failures

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
ads, adsense, bow wow, katsuni, morality, reporting

Companies:
google



Google AdSense's Idiotic And Hypocritical Morality Police Force Us To Remove Ads On News Stories

from the morally-pointless dept

Google's Adsense1 team has apparently decided that it is the morality police and that this 2012 story we wrote, about a lawsuit involving a porn star and the rapper Bow Wow, is somehow improper and a violation of Google's high moral standards. The story involves no nudity or porn. It's about how the porn star Katsuni (aka Celine Tran) was suing Bow Wow because a video for one of his songs used a bunch of video clips -- allegedly without permission -- from a music video by a different band (Electronic Conspiracy), which included video of Katsuni pole dancing. We noted it that wasn't a copyright case, because Katsuni doesn't hold the copyright, but rather she filed a publicity rights claim over the use of her image in the Bow Wow video. In other words: it was a fairly standard Techdirt news story on a legal dispute involving intellectual property. We embedded the two videos, which seemed rather important to demonstrating how the videos were similar -- the key issue at play in the lawsuit. We further noted that there was no nudity in either video, but they did show pole dancing, which might not be entirely safe for work, depending on your workplace environment.

A week ago, we received an email from the AdSense sales team, forwarding an email from the AdSense "policy team," saying that the ads on this page 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?

We got back a short note yesterday, telling us that our appeal was rejected and we needed to remove ads from that page immediately. Here was the entire explanation:
It looks like the video in question is fairly suggestive (ie there is a picture of a stripper pole) . I would not consider this instance a false positive, please ask the publisher to stop monetizing.
Note the vague standard being used: "fairly suggestive." And also the impeccable level of scrutiny employed: "looks like." Yippee for such a data driven analysis.

Again, this was on a news story about the copying between the videos, and the very same videos are found on YouTube where they are both monetized by Google's ads. Furthermore, it's not as though Google shies away from ads involving strippers. Here's a Google search I just did (which I may now need to explain to my wife, should she look at my history):
So, what possible purpose does this serve? Since we weren't set up to deal with deleting ads on specific pages like this, we had to have two people waste much of their time yesterday figuring out how to remove ads from a page that got less than 50 pageviews over the last year, just to please the ridiculous morality police at Google AdSense, who have a problem with a news report embedding a video that they themselves are monetizing on YouTube.

To put it simply: this is idiotic. Yes, Google has the right to make its own decisions about what it will allow ads on, but you would hope that there was at least some common sense employed. While we (thankfully!) aren't reliant on these ads as our main source of revenue, the whole situation is ridiculous. You could see how other news sites might even change their own reporting to avoid having to deal with such ridiculous and arbitrary policies from Google's nameless morality police.

For our part, we've actually been hard at work for a couple months now on some new sponsorship opportunities that we're increasingly hoping would let us do away with display advertising altogether. Before this we thought maybe the two could co-exist but, frankly, I'd love to just dump AdSense from the site outright at this point, given this sort of intrusion. If you work for a company that would like to be loved by our community for helping us to get rid of display advertising altogether, while also providing great content to a great and engaged audience, contact us ASAP. Alternatively, for individuals, feel free to support us over at the Insider Shop, where we've got some lovely items and services for sale.

Separately, because people will likely bring it up, about a month ago, a story made the rounds about a big conspiracy within Google to cut off AdSense users after they'd accumulated a fairly large amount of revenue due, allowing Google to then keep that revenue. The story seemed far-fetched, because even just some quick back of the envelope calculations would call into question how such a program could possibly make sense. Google would be cutting off revenue earning partners to "steal" one month's worth of revenue? How could that possibly make sense? Either way, Google quickly and convincingly denied the whole thing. And it's unlikely our situation has anything to do with that story, anyway.

That said, Google is somewhat infamous for arbitrarily cutting sites off with little to no warning or explanation. There are tons of reports of people who suddenly had their AdSense accounts shut down with basically no recourse whatsoever. Just a week or so ago, the company Free Range Content (disclosure: which provides the "Repost.us" syndication technology we use on our site) filed an interesting lawsuit after having its own AdSense account shut off. The details of that story seemed particularly bizarre. Free Range Content had actually noticed odd behavior with the account itself and alerted Google to the issue, specifically noting that its revenue seemed way too high for the given period. Someone on Google's AdSense team agreed to meet with Free Range Content, but two days before the meeting the entire account was shut down, and Google refused to give any explanation or present any recourse at all. At least we were given a heads up and a (absolutely ridiculous) reason.

Given stories like this, you can certainly see why people get so frustrated and fearful about the power that Google potentially has. Just the fact that there's an implication that we should change what we report on just to keep ads on our site seems immensely troubling. The fact that Google's AdSense policy team stood by the decision after we appealed suggests a broken process. While it seems likely this is a case of sheer and utter incompetence rather than malevolence, you can see why some people fear companies like Google.
1. A little background on Techdirt and AdSense: While we had experimented on and off with Google AdSense over the years, a few years ago we completely took them off the site (2011, I think), in part because of another ad relationship we had, but also because we found the performance to be abysmal. Just a few months ago, a sales team at AdSense made a very aggressive push to get us to start using it again, insisting that the performance would be much better and sending over "predicted revenue" that was significantly higher than we were getting at that time. We were skeptical, but also frustrated and annoyed with our existing ad provider, who all too frequently let through awful and obnoxious low quality ads (that we had to have someone monitoring constantly to remove), despite promises to keep them off our site. After running some tests, and realizing that Google clearly was very much overselling what AdSense could do, we still agreed to switch, in large part because the other solution we were using was so bad, we figured even if the payouts were similar, at least the experience would be marginally better. The terms of our deal forbid us from revealing how much we make from AdSense, but it's really not that much. We're basically covering our bandwidth bills. We're not making any profit from it at all, but we've kept it around to keep from flat out losing money on our hosting bills.

Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Rikuo (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 10:53am

    This article is cast iron proof that Mike Masnick is a Google shill. See how widely he sings their praises here! You can't doubt it!

    As an aside - article talking about how bad Google Adsense is...has ads for Google Ads on the side.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 29 May 2014 @ 11:02am

      Re:

      It is clearly another case of Mike and his friends at Google conspiring with each other to make it look like his reporting is not ALWAYS pro-Google.

      Haven't you noticed that they do this whenever Mike is getting ramped up for some big pro-Google "reporting" about how great they are at customer service?

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

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 12:02pm

        Re: Re:

        Mike Rogers is a freedom fighter and fierce critic of NSA and the mass surveillance programs. His pro-NSA stance and his constant attacks at Snowden are actually him getting ramped up in some big alien invasion.

        Hopefully you were as serious as those lines above are...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      Why the hell would they disable Adsense on a specific page without being required to?

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      Oh just you wait, some troll will manage to twist this as Mike supporting Google. Or worse, supporting lascivious stuff such as strippers and poledance.

      Although I'm all support for those things so he would actually manage to get a second yearly subscription from me just for that.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 1:18pm

        Re: Re:

        What influence, if any, Mike Masnick had is gone. Over the past few years it's been made clear that this blog isn't any more "fair and balanced" than Fox News. He is mocked just as they are. It was time to cut him loose.

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

        • icon
          Gwiz (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 2:05pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Over the past few years it's been made clear that this blog isn't any more "fair and balanced" than Fox News. He is mocked just as they are.


          Really? Mocked by whom?

          I know that The Trichordist and it's dozen or so loyal sycophants do, but who else?

          And for a site you claim is without influence and that is so readily mocked, Techdirt's million+ monthly page views seem to dispute that.

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

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 3:51pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            He's certainly mocked by a good number of Congressional staffers who are involved in IP issues. He's dismissed as a shrill, tinfoil hat wearing tool.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 4:24pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              95+ year copy protection lengths and retroactive extensions says the system is corrupt.

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

            • icon
              JMT (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 5:57pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Wow, mocked by Congressional staffers involved in IP issues! That must keep Mike awake at night!

              Are we supposed to be surprised that the people involved in pushing bad copyright laws at the behest of deep-pocketed content providers would be critical of people publicly shaming their actions?

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

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 6:58pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Don't assume it's only on the IP enforcement side of the table. He's looked at by mainstream reformers the way the GOP regards the Tea Party.

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 8:10pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Well, yeah, the 'mainstream' or incumbents in power are not interested in more government transparency. They are not interested in removing all the corruption and back door dealings that the government is involved in. They are interested in scamming the public for personal gain. So of course they look at anyone that criticizes them for this negatively. But why should I care?

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

                • icon
                  JMT (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 8:34pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  I'm sure you'll happily provide links to all the people publicly stating these opinions of Mike. After all, if he's truly considered as crazy as you say, I fing it hard to believe they'd all just whisper it amongst themselves...

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

            • icon
              techflaws (profile), 31 May 2014 @ 3:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              If an anonymous asshat claims this it certainly must be true!

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

            • identicon
              Pragmatic, 1 Jun 2014 @ 2:23pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Name one.

              Derek Khanna, a staffer who specializes in IP actually wrote some guest posts here. He doesn't think Mike is a fool.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 2:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You really don't need to be so obvious when displaying your ignorance, but you do bring up a very funny image.

          Mike says, "Mike, I'd like to talk to you. Your Fanboyism with Google has gone too far. Your fired." Mike responds, "Thanks, that's a load off my mind, now where the hell are those two Tim's and what's the next story?"

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 4:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It apparently has enough influence for you to come here and troll.

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

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 11:04am

    "Given stories like this, you can certainly see why people get so frustrated and fearful about the power that Google potentially has."
    There's an easy solution to this, but I imagine millions won't do it because "it's too hard".

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

  • identicon
    Ryan Jones, 29 May 2014 @ 11:15am

    yup

    I've gotten several notices about some sites of mine because the user comments contained profanity and Adsense didn't like them. I had to implement a swear word filter in my comments just to continue running ads.

    Seems to me simple "show this ad on pages with adult content or profanity" check boxes for advertisers would solve this issue while not hurting Google's bottom line.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 11:19am

    Probably not the best idea, given you'd dropped their ad service before for being so lousy, and only recently picked it up again because the one you had been using was also terrible. Talk about incentive to shop around and look for a better service to sign up for.

    Hopefully you can find a decent replacement, one who isn't interesting in dictating morals to you and throwing hypocritical fits over what you write about/display on the site.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 11:19am

    the worse thing about Google is that when it does something, no one is given the chance to ask why or what those involved have done wrong. Google thinks of itself as being the dog's danglies, just like the entertainment industries, and that it can do whatever it likes, at any time, for any reason and the rest of us is supposed to just go merrily along regardless of how we are affected! it's seriously about time that Google got off it's high horse! sooner or later, it's going to be asking all of us to back it because the USA Congress wants to do so-and-so which will encroach on Google more than anyone else, but we will be expected to care. the way i feel about Google and the stupid escapades it carries out is get going boy, there's others out there!!

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 29 May 2014 @ 11:24am

    The problem is the name

    If they called it AdNonSense, this would not seem so strange.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 11:25am

    (which I may now need to explain to my wife, should she look at my history)

    Mike may not be a Google shill, but he is a Google porn search noob

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

  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 11:29am

    Here's what I predict:

    - Google via YouTube, once they have enough power, will start offering very shitty streaming deals for artists - music, film and game alike - in exchange for copyrights, in an attempt to get as many copyrights as possible. Or all the studios will tactically negotiate with Google.
    - Google become far more ready to police infringing content that IT holds the rights to - not just within themselves, but any puny alternative website out there that doesn't have the same power that they do and cannot defend themselves against the lawsuits.
    - The supposed enemies of copyright embrace copyright and really do take a dangerous stab at the internet's foundations.
    - MPAA and RIAA start praising Google for being such admirable copyright defenders.

    And then the copyright believers will have got what they always wanted: central power to strike down anything and everything that infringes, even the slightest derivative.

    MPAA and Google may be enemies now, but I fear a pact a-brewin. A merge between them would be disastrous.

    I really don't think the Google Fiber revolution will succeed in any sense. Just because they offer such powerful speeds does not mean they will GIVE such speeds. Just look at the monopolistic ISPs of today.

    You think corruption stops with ads? They've yet to become far more corrupt than you can imagine.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 3:13pm

      Re:

      Google's moving toward a full embrace of copyright and a closer relationship with large content providers. It knows the money is in content and that's about all it cares about.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 5:24pm

        Re: Re:

        So if Google is working towards what you want why are you so obsessed with whining about Masnick's alleged toadying?

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

    • icon
      Ignis (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 6:13pm

      Re:

      I don't think your predictions are by any means far fetched. Google has been gradually appeasing the whims of the entertainment industry. Besides, with Google being one of the primary proponents of Encrypted Media Extension, they may very well already be on their way to merge with/bow down to/lord over the entertainment industry.

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

    • icon
      spankydoesdallas (profile), 1 Jun 2014 @ 6:01pm

      Re: Here's what I Predict:

      Correction: Google has become far more corrupt then you can imagine. If you were able to see and understand the amount and scope of user information Google has turned over to the U.S. government with regard to NSL's, it would shake the www to the core (pun intended).

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

  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 29 May 2014 @ 11:32am

    Google's impenetrable wall

    One of the annoying things about Google operations is that the people behind it seem to consider themselves too important to play nice with the entire rest of the Internet. Let me give you an example.

    Every domain that sends or receives email is required to have a working "postmaster" address, e.g., postmaster@example.com. I mean "required" in two senses: first, it's in RFC 2142 and RFC 5321 and its predecessor RFC 2821 and its predecessor RFC 822 which dates back to 1982 and the late, much-missed Jon Postel. Second, everyone expects this to work: it's been not just a de jure standard, but a de facto best practice FOR OVER 30 YEARS.

    Now try using it at Google. For extra credit, try using the other role account addresses (e.g., abuse, webmaster and others, see RFC 2142) and see what you get. Is it a cogent, well-reasoned, technically sound response that indicates that the recipient read what you wrote, performed any necessary research, took any necessary actions, and summarized both for you?

    Google is not some cash-starved organization trying to get by with a severely limited budget and a skeleton crew. They have enormous financial and personnel resources. They could afford to implement this with their spare change -- and they should, because that's what responsible, professional entities do.

    (Sometimes when I point this out, the counter-argument is made that their "abuse" mailbox would overflow. My response to that is that if your operation is emitting so much abuse that inbound complaint volume is overwhelming, then you have bigger problems than you think and maybe you should unplug your operation from the Internet until you get a firm grip on it.)

    Anyway, my point here is that trying to engage human beings at Google, peer-to-peer, has proven to be exceedingly difficult -- so it's not surprising to see a laconic, formulaic, nearly completely useless response from their AdSense people. It's what they do.

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

  • icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 11:48am

    "Strategically covered nudity" is the best example of doublespeak I've seen in a long time.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 11:52am

    Google has a long history of cutting sites off of adsense because they were making too much money. Given its poor customer relations in trying to get anything done in dealing with Google, it is amazing to me that anyone still agrees to use them.

    Personally I refuse to let advertisement on this computer. Even with it's proclaimed watching ads, over the years, time and again, malware has been distributed through their system just like any other.

    It's a security matter and until it is cleaned up to where it doesn't happen at all, it will remain this way on my computers with no ads displayed. I notice that if I get malware, no one from Google nor any other advertiser sends someone over to straighten out my computer. Nope, the whole thing rests on me taking care of it. So it's a matter of self protection.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 29 May 2014 @ 12:36pm

      Re:

      Google has a long history of cutting sites off of adsense because they were making too much money

      Can you cite some real confirmed examples of this? It makes absolutely no sense.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 12:01pm

    Dissapointed -1

    I was searching google for adult content, specifically dirty strippers listening to techno music.

    I ended up here and all I see is some journalist whining about add revenue. Google sucks and so does this site for not having what I want!

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

  • identicon
    Indy, 29 May 2014 @ 12:04pm

    Purpose?

    What purpose does advertising serve? It's malware for the mind.

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

  • identicon
    zip, 29 May 2014 @ 12:47pm

    As "Morality Police" go, Google is nowhere near as bad as PayPal, which routinely freezes funds from a wide variety of businesses -- such as VPNs and 'cloud' hosting -- just because the MPAA doesn't approve of their business model.

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

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 29 May 2014 @ 1:21pm

    Google is the DEVIL!

    Good is the devil. While once nice and benevolent, they are now nothing more than the evil corporation they tried so hard to set themselves apart from in the early days.

    I am one of the people who had his AdSense account banned for some idiotically explained non-reason. It didn't really bother me, because I wasn't really making much money from it... but still, the odd and arbitrary decisions remind me too much of the Nazi-like Apple App store and it's contradictory and haphazard app rejections.

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

  • identicon
    Mr. Oizo, 29 May 2014 @ 1:33pm

    Now that is what I am talking about

    This article basically summarizes some of my complaints about Google, yet 2 days ago I was the troll ? How weird. Anyway, thanks for posting; also thanks for sharing that your revenue also sucks (as does mine, tot the point that I will not be running ads anymore either).

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 29 May 2014 @ 2:21pm

      Re: Now that is what I am talking about

      Looking back at your comments, I think you'll find that you weren't called a troll because of your comments about Google. You were called a troll because of your name-calling.

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

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 31 May 2014 @ 3:57am

      Re: Now that is what I am talking about

      What this actually does is proving you're a liar for claiming Mike is a Google shill. You're welcome.

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

  • identicon
    NeuronsFromSpace, 29 May 2014 @ 4:37pm

    One day, you guys will realize operation choke-point is not limited just to banks, but every entity in bed with the feds (Google et al).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2014 @ 5:57pm

    What if the DOJ is forcing Google to do this, similar to how the DOJ forced Citibank to close down the bank accounts of adult entertainers.

    If Google's Adsense policy also states rules against gambling and firearms, then there's a good chance the DOJ is manipulating Adsense policy. Similar to how they dictate the policies of most financial institutions, such as banks.

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

  • icon
    Michael_P_Shipley (profile), 30 May 2014 @ 7:08am

    Techdirt should just sell ads directly and eliminate all ad networks. Its harder but you make more money and have more control.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 30 May 2014 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      Techdirt should just sell ads directly and eliminate all ad networks. Its harder but you make more money and have more control.

      We do. But it's nearly impossible to eliminate ad networks for a variety of reasons. And, honestly, it's become more and more difficult to sell ads directly. The companies who have big ad budgets don't want to buy on sites our size individually -- too much work. And companies with smaller ad budgets can't afford to pay the (very reasonable) rates we offer.

      So we're right in the middle, where actually getting people to pay for ads on the site is next to impossible. We've been able to do it for years, but it's getting harder and harder, and many prefer to just use ad networks.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2014 @ 11:23am

    I've told people many times before that NSA's Google is evil yet they continue to use their services and products: search engine, email, phone, browser, OS, etc.

    Deal with it.

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

  • identicon
    rajendra, 31 Jul 2014 @ 4:15am

    AdSense

    I have started my blog http://studymywoman.blogspot.in/?view=classic when we can apply for adsense? it saying "Your blog doesn't currently qualify for AdSense",so my question is can we apply for adsense within a month,if the content is good insense not copy from anywhere in google and good pageviews 50/day.

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

  • identicon
    Mark Brown, 22 Mar 2015 @ 12:50pm

    This scares the living s%#t out of me

    I can't imagine what I would do if something like that happened to me...I really feel like I must start diversifying my income beyond my current SEO + Adsense setup - because Google can be a really cruel mistress indeed. :S

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


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