Talking tech since 2003

Let me start by saying that Google AdSense is one of the web’s best innovations and I think it’s a great product.  I’ve been using it myself for years and I know many people who use it on their own sites.  That being said, one thing that seems to come up in conversation between site owners is how for some site owners Google AdSense seems to earn them less money than it did in year’s past.  Now obviously, there could be a whole slew of reasons for this from less traffic to needing to optimize placement, etc, but according to an anonymous post on Pastebin the reasoning is far more sinister.

Before I get into what the post says, I need to make clear that at this time I have not been able to verify the accusations made against Google.  The reason I’m sharing this information is because I think it needs to be examined and if it is true, then we need more people to speak out about it.

The post is allegedly written by a former Google employee who worked in the AdSense department and worked with publishers accounts.  In an effort to protect themselves from potential legal action for violating NDA’s and non-competes, (s)he says that the leak of this information has been “carefully planned … to coincide with certain factors in Google such as waiting for the appropriate employee turn around so that my identity could not be discovered.”

According to the author of the post, the entire scheme started in 2009 (coincidentally when the Great Recession hit) when Google began [wrongfully] banning publisher accounts just before payments were supposed to be made.

Managers pushed for wide scale account bans, and the first big batch of bans happened in March of 2009. The main reason, the publishers made too much money. But something quite devious happened. We were told to begin banning accounts that were close to their payout period (which is why account bans never occur immediately after a payout). The purpose was to get that money owed to publishers back to Google AdSense, while having already served up the ads to the public.

From 2009 to 2012 there were allegedly several instances when many publisher accounts were banned for no [good] reason at all. The author went on to say how in April 2012, the biggest banning session occurred.

The bans of April 2012 came fast and furious. Absolutely none of them were investigated, nor were they justified in any way. We were told to get rid of as many of the accounts with the largest checks/payouts/earnings waiting to happen. No reason, just do it, and don’t question it.

But what about appealing the ban? According to the author many publishers did, but to no avail. “Many launched appeals, complaints, but it was futile because absolutely no one actually took the time to review the appeals or complaints. Most were simply erased without even being opened, the rest were deposited into the database, never to be touched again.”

Some publishers apparently even sued Google and subsequently settled with the search giant, according to the post. But the lawsuits over this led to a policy change for the AdSense team.

According to the post, the new policy was officially called AdSense Quality Control Color Codes (commonly called AQ3C by employees). The policy grouped publishers into four different groups: Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green (VIP).

Publishers in the Green (VIP) group are essentially untouchable, it allegedly includes Google employees and big publishers that could cause potential problems for Google if they decided to bring AdSense problems into the public light.

According to the author, Google employees wanting to use AdSense on their websites were automatically placed in the Green group. “The database contained many Google insiders and their family members. If you work or worked for Google and were placed in the category, you stayed in it, even if you left Google.” In order for an employee to be added to the Green group, they simply have to submit a form with site specific details and their account information.

The Red group consists of publishers making $10,000/month. This group of publishers are actively monitored by a special team inside the AdSense division known as “The Eagle Eye Team,” who “actively and constantly audit their accounts and look for any absolute reason for a ban. Even if the reason was far-fetched, or unsubstantiated, and unprovable, the ban would occur.”

The Yellow group consists of publishers making $5,000/month and the Blue group consists of publishers making $1,000 month. According to the author, any sites that are flagged will be audited at some point, which may eventually result in a ban.

After that policy change, Google allegedly made one more in 2012. This one, if true, is perhaps the most egregious of them all. The author claims that Google decided to start altering the statistical data shown for websites who use Analytics and AdSense. The end result would be lower site statistics. The author went on to say, “the reasoning behind their decision is that if an individual links their AdSense account and their Analytics account, the Analytics account can be used to deflate the earnings automatically without any human intervention.”

This just seems insane, would a company like Google do something like this? If any of this is even remotely true, what happened to do “Do no evil”? I think this leaker needs to consult an attorney and see if (s)he would be covered by any whistle-blower laws (which would protect them from Google seeking legal action against them) if they went to the authorities to start an investigation.

I use both Google AdSense and Google Analytics, I would be curious to see how a different analytics program would measure the traffic for BestTechie and if it would be close to what Google reports. That may be something we can start to experiment with going forward to see if we can validate any of these claims.

I think part of the problem here (and what makes this story believable) is the lack of transparency by Google over the years relating to its AdSense program and how difficult it is to get answers from the company when you do experience problems. If Google had been more transparent with publishers, perhaps this post wouldn’t be given nearly as much attention as it has gotten so far.

We have also reached out to Google for comment and will update this post if/when we hear back. And if we find ourselves banned from AdSense we’ll let you know that too.

Update: We just received a statement from a Google spokesperson who as you would expect denied the allegations against the company.

This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. The color-coding and “extreme quality control” programs the author describes don’t exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users.

All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers. When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher’s account and refunding affected advertisers.

It also appears Google is currently investigating to see if it can identify who the alleged leak came from, something it hopes to have resolved quickly. The company also shared some details on its AdSense publishers noting that over 1 million publishers have been using AdSense for 5 years or longer, and how the company paid out more than $9 billion to publishers last year alone.

It’s good to see Google is taking a proactive approach to this and not just ignoring it (which would probably lead to more conspiracy theories), I honestly didn’t expect to receive a response or a prepared statement. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this story.


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