By Chris Crum at WebProNews:
Someone claiming to be a former Google employee has accused the company of stealing money from AdSense publishers.
In a “leak” on Pastebin, this person says, “To sum it up for everyone, I took part in what I (and many others) would consider theft of money from the publishers by Google, and from direct orders of management. There were many AdSense employees involved, and it spanned many years, and I hear it still is happening today except on a much wider scale. No one on the outside knows it, if they did, the FBI and possibly IRS would immediately launch an investigation, because what they are doing is so inherently illegal and they are flying completely under the radar.”
It’s a pretty lengthy and detailed explanation. Here’s a portion:
In the first quarter of 2009 there was a “sit-down” from the AdSense division higher ups to talk about new emerging issues and the role we (the employees in the AdSense division needed to play. It was a very long meeting, and it was very detailed and intense. What it boiled down to was that Google had suffered some very serious losses in the financial department several months earlier. They kept saying how we “needed to tighten the belts” and they didn’t want it to come from Google employees pockets. So they were going to (in their words) “carry out extreme quality control on AdSense publishers”. When one of my fellow co-workers asked what they meant by that. Their response was that AdSense itself hands out too many checks each month to publishers, and that the checks were too large and that needed to end right away. Many of the employees were not pleased about this (like myself). But they were successful in scaring the rest into thinking it would be their jobs and their money that would be on the line if they didn’t participate. The meeting left many confused as to how this was going to happen.
What did they mean by extreme quality control? A few other smaller meetings occur with certain key people in the AdSense division that furthered the idea and procedure they planned on implementing. There were lots of rumors and quiet talking amongst the employees, there was lots of speculations, some came true and some didn’t. But the word was that they were planning to cut off a large portion of publisher’s payments.
After that point there was a running gag amongst fellow co-workers where we would walk by each other and whisper “Don’t be evil, pft!” and roll our eyes.
What happened afterwards became much worse. Their “quality control” came into full effect. 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.
This way the advertiser’s couldn’t claim we did not do our part in delivering their ads and ask for money back. So in a sense, we had thousands upon thousands of publishers deliver ads we knew they were never going to get paid for.
Google reaped both sides of the coin, got money from the advertisers, used the publishers, and didn’t have to pay them a single penny. We were told to go and look into the publishers accounts, and if any publisher had accumulated earnings exceeding $5000 and was near a payout or in the process of a payout, we were to ban the account right away and reverse the earnings back. They kept saying it was needed for the company, and that most of these publishers were ripping Google off anyways, and that their gravy train needed to end. Many employees were not happy about this. A few resigned over it. I did not. I stayed because I had a family to support, and secondly I wanted to see how far they would go.
From 2009 to 2012 there were many more big batches of bans. The biggest of all the banning sessions occurred in April of 2012. The AdSense division had enormous pressure from the company to make up for financial losses, and for Google’s lack of reaching certain internal financial goals for the quarter prior. So the push was on. The employees felt really uneasy about the whole thing, but we were threatened with job losses if we didn’t enforce the company’s wishes. Those who voiced concerned or issue were basically ridiculed with “not having the company’s best interest in mind” and not being “team players”. Morale in the division was at an all-time low. The mood of the whole place changed quite rapidly. It no
longer was a fun place to work.
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. It was heart wrenching seeing all that money people had earned all get stolen from them. And that’s what I saw it as, it was a robbery of the AdSense publishers. 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.
Several publishers launched legal actions which were settled, but Google had come up with a new policy to deal with situations such as that because it was perceived as a serious problem to be avoided. So they came up with a new policy.
There’s much more to the explanation. Read the whole thing here.
Obviously Google denies the whole thing. Google has given several news outlets the following statement:
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.
Google’s Matt Cutts has been defending the company on Hacker News. He wrote:
Everything about this post strikes me as a conspiracy-laden fake, from the typos to wrong terminology to untrue policies to the lack of specific names of people. I passed this pastebin to the ads side to confirm for sure, but I would treat this as completely untrue.
Added: Yup, I’m hearing back from multiple people on the ads side that this is pretty much untrue from start to finish.
Also notice that the “rmujica” account that submitted this item has never submitted any other story or written any other comment on Hacker News before today.
In another comment, Cutts added:
I’ve worked with the people this post talks about since 2005. Even though I’m the head of the webspam team, I’m familiar with how AdSense deals with fraud.
For example, I often see disgruntled publishers complaining on the web, and from time to time I’ve followed up on specific blog posts to get the other side of the story. In addition, the group that manually fights webspam at Google is a sibling organization to the group that fights adspam.
Finally, I passed these claims directly to the ads side and so far I’ve gotten three (now four) different “this is fake” responses from people I trust and have worked with in different capacities for years, including an engineer that I worked with in search quality who later went to work in ads.
Someone commenting a Valleywag article said, “I never participated in adsense (fuck google) but I was part of a big online group who used it hard. Thousands were banned without reason in a single sweep near their payout date. It matches this description perfectly. I always suspected foul play and now this describes exactly what happened around that exactly time. Coincidence. I don’t think so…And what a group of small people could do against mighty Google?”
This person continued in another comment, “I didn’t participate in it as I was just a witness to the uproar. But what people were saying at the time matches what this guy is saying. It was a forum called WarriorForum, dedicated to Internet Marketing. I was planning on selling apps for them but nothing came out of it but it was around the time the ban fest happened.”
It’s unlikely that the “leaked” story will be proven, unless more of the mentioned employees come forward with real identities. At the same time, it could be difficult for Google to prove its case beyond a “you’re going to have to take our word for it” kind of scenario.
AdSense is said to account for roughly a third of Google’s revenue.
What do you think? Conspiracy theory or not?