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. ↩