Fighting back against the Googletron

I just got back from the post office, where I sent this letter — and the five attachments to which I’ve linked — to Attorney General Martha Coakley. I have no illusions that my little consumer complaint warrants much in the way of time and resources. Rather, I’m hoping that she or someone in her office will understand the fun and publicity that would come their way by taking on mighty Google. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

By the way, if you click on Attachments #1 or #2, you’ll see an unfamiliar e-mail address for me. Don’t bother sending me anything there. I used it only for AdSense, and I’m probably going to shut it down.

January 20, 2011

Attorney General Martha Coakley
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108 -1518

Dear Ms. Coakley:

I write to you today about a matter of consumer fraud so small that your first instinct may be not to pursue it. Yet it involves one of our largest and most important companies, Google — which, as you know, has a substantial operation in Massachusetts. And what Google has done to me is just the tip of the iceberg. I have learned that I am one of many people whom Google has essentially defrauded under its AdSense program.

For me it began in September 2010, when I signed up with Google to have advertising automatically posted on my blog, Media Nation (www.dankennedy.net). The earnings were slow but steady. When I checked my account several weeks ago, I saw that I had earned about $120 to $130, and that I would receive a check after January 31.

Then, on January 16, I received an e-mail from Google informing me that “we’ve determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity.” My account was shut down (which is why I can’t tell you exactly how much money I’m owed), and I was informed that the money I had earned would be refunded to the companies whose ads had appeared on Media Nation (see Attachment #1). I filed an appeal, and on January 20 was informed that it had been rejected (see Attachment #2).

I have no idea why Google did this. As you can see, no information is provided in either of the two e-mails I received from the company. What I have learned is that this high-handed behavior is characteristic of the way Google runs its AdSense program. See, for instance, Aaron Greenspan’s article in the Huffington Post (Attachment #3) and Dylan Winter’s column in Duckworks Magazine (Attachment #4). I have also read about similar complaints on various Internet message boards. I wrote about my own situation for Media Nation earlier this week (see Attachment #5).

I hope you will agree with me that this is outrageous behavior on Google’s part. My strong suspicion is that no human has even looked at my account — that this was all determined by Google’s software sniffing around my site and finding a traffic pattern that seemed to suggest a problem, even though it was perfectly innocuous.

The amount of money may be small, but it is time someone in government stood up to Google executives and told them they cannot confiscate the earnings of people with whom they do business and without even giving them a reason.

Sincerely,

Dan Kennedy

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17 thoughts on “Fighting back against the Googletron

  1. Michael Durant

    I worked in the Consumer Complaints division as an intern for a couple summers. What you should do is fill out the form, mail that in, and wait for mediation (they can’t make Google do anything. At the least, you’ll get a reason why.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Michael: I couldn’t be bothered. This is all about me having some fun in public.

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  3. Rich Carreiro

    $150 is under the small claims threshold. So sue Google in small claims court! And make it a Consumer Protection law action (Chapter 93A). Then you can ask for treble damages.

    This will at least force them to respond if nothing else and if they don’t you may win $450 by default.

    And you’ll get a good story/blog post out of it at a minimum.

    (Here’s the link to the AG’s guide to Chap 93A. Sorry for the hideousness of the URL, but blame MA for that. http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=ocaterminal&L=3&L0=Home&L1=Consumer&L2=Shopping%2C+Retail+%26+E-Commerce&sid=Eoca&b=terminalcontent&f=a_basic_guide_to_the_massachusetts_consumer_protection_law&csid=Eoca)

  4. dylan winter

    In my case it was $5,000 they seized back from me. Google is proud to have changed the paradigm – well they have certainly changed the paradigm of the way business is carried out. I would love to see an audit trail to prove that all the $5,000 went back to the advertisers who had been subjected to a “risk of generating invalid activity” rather than into Google’s $2.5 billion dollar adsense revenue balance. The amazing thing is that I too am convionced that no human was involved in the closing of my adsense account – a 12 year old child could have looked at my data and seen that the vast majority of my income was coming from my 20 million hit youtube site and a small amount from my subscription website. The logical thing to do would be to disable the subscription website but let the youtube adsense account continue to roll. Of course they took away my access to the data so defending yourself in an appeal is rather hard.

    Dylan Winter

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @dylan: You really got screwed. Google took so little money from me that I can laugh about it. You make an excellent point about what an audit might reveal. I mean, how does anyone know that the money was really refunded to the advertisers?

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Jerry: Do you really have to ask? I’ve got his head over at the taxidermist’s now, and am picking out a nice spot on my wall.

  5. Stephen Stein

    @Dan, re @dylan – if you sued in small claims court, would that give you leave through discovery to see Google’s audit trail? Might be worth it just for that!

    (Though I think Dylan has a much larger claim.)

  6. graham parker

    Dylan Winter is a great guy that, if you watch any of his brilliant videos, you know is an ethical bloke getting screwed by the Big Sell! Welcome to the Machine!!

  7. Aaron Read

    @ C.E. – if you really think that’s true, then you really have no idea how Google works.

    There’s a very specific reason why their offices are in an MIT-owned building, at the edge of the MIT campus. Moving it anywhere else would defeat the purpose.

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