By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Googletron invades Media Nation

I am trying to keep my anger under control, and perhaps things will work out. Today, though, I learned that Google has suspended my AdSense account for undefined “invalid activity.” Actually, it isn’t even that specific — it’s because “we’ve determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity.” Yeah, well, you never know when I might go off.

I began running a Google ad strip over the header of Media Nation last fall. It had generated a very small amount of money — barely over $100 — which was supposed to be paid to me at the end of January. Now I’ve learned that Google is grabbing the money from me in order to pay back “the affected advertisers.” I guess there really is such a thing as a free lunch, but not for me.

What did I do wrong? I have no idea. The only thing I can think of is that, sometime in the last week or two, I accidentally clicked on the Google ad on my site — a no-no, since advertisers pay by the click. Knowing how much that’s frowned upon, I practically freaked out. But I can’t believe that a one-time stray click would be enough for the Googletron to cast me into the void. Indeed, Aaron Katz tells me, “An accidental click or two shouldn’t affect anything negatively.”

I’ve filed an appeal, hoping for the best but not really expecting anything. Certainly it doesn’t seem that anyone else has had any luck. In the meantime, I may need to think about whether any local advertisers would be interested in buying what is now a blank space along the top of Media Nation.

Google’s new slogan: “Be Evil.”

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  1. BP Myers

    I participate in another site which had the same thing happen, and they never did hear exactly why their account was suspended. I can’t help but believe in this instance it was simply strong opinions being expressed on the issues of the day that were enough to scare them away.

    Anyway, it does reveal there is an opportunity for somebody braver than Google to step into this marketplace and make a killing.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: The thing I find most mind-blowing is that I ran those ads for more than four months, every day, and then Google turns around and steals the money without providing an explanation.

  2. BP Myers

    @Dan: Yup. Suspect somewhere in the fine print you’ll find they’re within their rights. But someday, probably soon, they’re going to get the Microsoft treatment from the Feds. They are getting way too big for their britches. But breaking the “unwritten” rule as you did reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch:

    Stig: Well he had to, didn’t he? I mean there was nothing else he could do, I had transgressed the unwritten law.
    Rogers: What had you done?
    Stig: Er… well he didn’t tell me that, but he gave me his word that it was the case, and that’s good enough for me with old Dinsy. I mean, he didn’t *want* to nail my head to the floor.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: As much as I’d love to think Media Nation was too hot for Google to handle, my guess is that no human has even looked at the site. A computer probably detected some sort of pattern that signals “possible scam,” shut down my account and sent me an e-mail. There is nothing more aggravating about Google than the fact that there is no one to talk to.

  3. Stephen Stein

    I think my reaction mirrors that of every citizen of Media Nation: WTF!?!?!

    But in every WTF there is an opportunity for great reporting. Get to the bottom of this, Dan – there may be a story in it about the future of online advertising and by extension the future on online journalism.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: You know what? I should be spending all of my time reporting on the New Haven Independent.

  4. Dan, I don’t know if this will help you now, but just a tip if you can get the Adsense account back:

    If you happen to use WordPress for the platform, there are various plug-ins that easily place ads in blog posts and elsewhere as well as block any clicks by site admins so that they are not registered by Google. If you use a different platform, I could probably find something similar.

    If you’d like, I can get you the details.

    Also, the problem would not be site content. Adsense policy only bars sites that have pornography, scams, and related things — never politics, unless it is anything deemed as “hate speech.”

  5. Mike Benedict

    Besides the aforementioned, what is disappointing about publishers/website owners that allow Google relatively free reign over their sites is that they are not getting compensated for *their* actual work. That work includes:

    1. The developing of original content that in theory pulls readers and thus eyeballs to the ad, even if no subsequent click occurs
    2. The cost of the infrastructure for that site.
    3. The passing to Google, cost-free, immense data about the use of the site.

    What’s more, many advertisers are starting to push for “pay per performance” or “pay per click” programs that necessarily undermine the intrinsic value of the site. There is a definite yet impossible-to-appraise value to your ad being seen, even if no one clicks on it. Imagine if billboard owners were paid only when the advertiser decided they wanted to. Publishers should run, run away from such demands.

    Frankly, Dan, if you’ve received $100 in a year, you’re giving Google something for nothing. Publishers — you among them — need to fight back. You are Curt Flood, man.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: I did not receive my money, nor will I, apparently.

  6. Aaron Read

    Time to go to small-claims, Dan. Maybe you could make an extra-credit thing out of it for your students! 🙂

    Why I Sued Google (and Won)

    BTW, last I checked, Google has a major presence in Cambridge in Kendall Square: the One Broadway building at the corner of Broadway and Third Street. I’m not sure if that means you’re better off filing your claim in Middlesex County, where Google is, or in Essex County, where you live. But I imagine there’s probably someone on NEU’s staff willing to tell you the essentials in exchange for you buying lunch. 🙂

    (note: that HuffPo article has a followup on how Google appealed and beat the guy, but I suspect that’s because he wrote about winning on HuffPo and got a lot of attention drawn to Google’s bad behavior and they decided to make an example of him…that probably wouldn’t apply so much here.)

  7. Dan Kennedy

    @Aaron: I wish I had the time to spend in small claims court. Nice business model, huh? Just grab people’s money.

  8. Pat Daukantas

    Somehow, this reminds me of how my UU church down here in Maryland got dropped by Paper Retriever because somehow we weren’t generating enough paper. We’re a couple hundred enthusiastic recyclers, but we don’t use enough paper to start with, I guess. Darn those e-newsletters!

  9. Mike Rice

    Appears to be a screw job dressed up as business in order to get rid of a small account. I can’t stand B.S. like this.

  10. LFNeilson

    They heard about your elbow and decided you were an invalid.

    I suspect they’re trying to fly under the radar. They figure you’ll decide a $100 claim isn’t worth chasing. Multiply that times 10,000 and Ka-Ching!!!

  11. Mike Benedict

    @MikeRice: Doubt the size of the account matters to Google. They are so automated. I have several years’ experience with Google and every year or so receive a check to cash.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike and @Mike: Totally automated. I’d be shocked if any human was involved in cutting me off.

  12. L.K. Collins

    It’s not human, Dan, just not human.

  13. Weird ass stuff like this has been going on for years with no recourse.

    I could tell you stories but what’s the point?

    I mostly focus on reducing my reliance on Google services and accept that, since I don’t have an advocate within the company like so many high-profile tech bloggers do, I will never be able to connect with a human and change anything they or their machines decide to do.

    Reminds me of Microsoft and Yahoo.

  14. LFNeilson

    Are we living in a sci-fi setting or what?

  15. Aaron Read

    I wish I had the time to spend in small claims court. Nice business model, huh? Just grab people’s money.

    I can’t speak for Essex County, but usually small claims court is not terribly time-consuming. You might have to take one vacation day for the actual trip to court, but the whole point of small claims is that lawyers are forbidden; it’s supposed to be a working-man’s interpretation of the law.

    I think everything you need to bring before the judge you’ve already written up in your blog post. Just skim the TOS for AdSense to find the section on how they say they can terminate your account for any reason, print it out, and be ready to say: “But you can’t terminate my account because of the color of my eyes or my skin!”

    And again, this is a case where I suspect you could shamelessly make use of free student labor to help prep beforehand. Make it an extra credit assignment! 🙂 And think of it this way: if you win your court case, it’ll look good for Northeastern…which means it looks good for your tenure review. 😉

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: I can’t even state exactly what Google owes me, since they cut off access to my account! Rather than go to small claims court, my inclination is to file a complaint with the consumer-protection folks in either the attorney general’s or the governor’s office.

  16. Best of luck, Dan. Hope you find a way to turn this into a positive. I like the small claims idea people are discussing and will consider that in the future but you do what’s right for you and you know you’ve got supporters!

    “Are we living in a sci-fi setting or what?”

    I’ve really been feeling that. We see and read varieties of science fiction that describe constant surveillance, unfair detention by computer and all sorts of stuff that feels almost inevitable as we see “benevolent” companies like Google putting the pieces in place.

    Problems with politics dissidents?

    There’s an algorithm for that!

  17. L.K. Collins

    Corporations are required to have attorneys in court, sp while Dan can represent himself, Google would have an attorney.

    He would have to shoe-horn his complaint in under some statute, unfair an deceptive practices might work. Dan’s complication would be that Google’s right to do what they have done is likely buried far down in the fine print of the contract.

    This sounds more like the small guy not realizing the rough-and-tumble of the big guy’s world and getting hammered by it. Not fair? Yes, but contracts are often not fair and civil courts recognize contracts more than fairness.

    The bottom line is that it’s all about the money.

    Dan who?

    Your best relief is here Dan, doing just what you are doing.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: As we learned yesterday, corporations are forbidden from sending a lawyer to small-claims court, though that might not be true in Massachusetts. As we also learned, though the guy won, Google appealed and got the judgment overturned. So I think I’ll stick with sending a hot letter to the attorney general’s office (and posting it here, of course), assuming Google doesn’t actually reverse its decision in the next week or so. And I’m going to look into other ways of selling that space.

      BTW, as I understand it, Google’s TOS says it can cancel your account for any reason or for no reason, which is illegal on its face. So the TOS is not the be-all and end-all.

  18. L.K. Collins

    Unconscionable maybe. Illegal? Probably not. Signing/accepting a contract can waive a fair number of things. You are over 18, right?

    Google and the AG? One person? Coakley’s budget? It will goes to a file to be stored until either the the decade turns or the file gets so big that it can’t be ignored.

    Bad news travels five times faster than good, it has been said. Trick is in making it news.

    You can do it, Dan.

  19. Mike Rice

    It’s all about the money – BINGO! Automated banishment makes it even worse. Don’t give up.

  20. Bob Gardner

    Maybe the complaint should be in the MGL CH93A format which gives them 30 days to make a reasonable offer to settle.
    I’m sure you can get the format off the web just by GOOGLING “93A demand letter” which should be incentive enough for you.

  21. L.K. Collins

    93A incorporates unfair and deceptive practices. MA is one of the states that require a 30-day demand notice before filing suit in these circumstances.

    Dan’s problem is still the contract.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Game on: Just received this from Google —


      Thank you for your appeal. We appreciate the additional information you’ve provided, as well as your continued interest in the AdSense program. However, after thoroughly re-reviewing your account data and taking your feedback into consideration, our specialists have confirmed that we’re unable to reinstate your AdSense account.

      As a reminder, if you have any questions or concerns about your account, the actions we’ve taken, or invalid activity in general, you can find more information by visiting

      My next step is to put together a complaint to the state attorney general’s office backed up by articles that have been written by other people who’ve been screwed by Google over exactly the same issue. I can’t imagine why Martha Coakley wouldn’t enjoy getting a headline or two out of going after Google. But we’ll see.

      • Dan Kennedy

        Just posted this on a Google support forum. Will be keeping an eye on it to see if it gets taken down:

        Google just responded to my appeal by refusing to reinstate my AdSense account and refusing to explain why it shut me down and took my money. You can read Google’s response here:

        I would strongly urge people not to do business with Google. After five-plus months of ads running on my site, I have absolutely nothing to show for it and no explanation as to why I have been cast out of the Googletron. Given the number of similar complaints I have encountered in the past few days, I am shocked that no regulatory agency has taken action against Google. In my case, it’s only about $120 (can’t tell for certain since they shut down my account), but it’s money that I earned.

  22. Best of luck, Dan.

    FWIW, I did receive a check from Google after accruing $100 in my account, and I had clicked onto my banners a few times just to see where in hell the ads took me, so I doubt that’s the problem. Also, as you know, my content isn’t always (fill-in-the-blank)-friendly or politically-correct, so one would think Google would have lopped off my head for it if that sort of thing were actually your problem.

    My major gripe with Google is that I have never been able to figure out exactly what the pay scale is. That is, I have no idea how much I’ve received per ad run, clicked on, or whatever other action may have been undertaken. Perhaps it’s easier now – my last check came a couple of years back, and I really haven’t cared much since – but I’ll be damned if I could figure it out, and I’m not a total slouch with math.

  23. Irony Department: Just after I posted my comment, I found out that I am today’s “Blog Of Note”. Well, maybe not irony, but it’s closer than sarcasm.

  24. Stephen Stein

    Your comment is still there on their “support” forums. They won’t remove it – it’ll just fall lower and lower in the huge pile of AdSense complaints.

    Do you keep the white space at the top of your blog as a “tribute”? Or is that space permanently foreclosed upon?

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