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AdSense Bannings - Class Action Suit Filed
Partly Based on Pastebin Leaker Allegations
martinibuster




msg:4673108
 2:20 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

cNet is reporting [cnet.com] that a class action suit was filed alleging widespread fraud, basing some of it's allegations on the anonymous and widely dismissed accusations posted on pastebin. (previous discussion here [webmasterworld.com])


A lawsuit filed Tuesday against Google accuses the tech titan of engaging in widespread fraud by canceling AdSense accounts just before they were due to pay out.

The suit relies in part on recent anonymous accusations that Google developed an AdSense fraud scheme in 2009 to prevent publishers from collecting money that Google owed them...

...The lawsuit is seeking class action status so that it can represent all US-based AdSense users whose accounts were disabled or terminated with their Google refusing to pay them their final payment.

The case was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro on behalf of Free Range Content, the California-based owner of Repost.us, which had been using AdSense to display ads. Free Range Content alleges that it first noticed an unusual jump of $40,000 in its AdSense earnings this past February. The company says that it reported the anomaly to Google, and was scheduled to speak with an AdSense representative on March 6 when Google disabled their account two days before the call. Google, the suit alleges, refused further contact with Free Range Content.

 

netmeg




msg:4673119
 2:58 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Not sure I believe the suit will win, but it'll be interesting to see what if any information comes out of it.

superclown2




msg:4673141
 3:21 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

The suit relies in part on recent anonymous accusations


That says it all for me. Still you can't blame people for trying.

webcentric




msg:4673149
 3:53 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

You know, lawyers/attorneys (typically the cats who file lawsuits) have a relationship with their clients (called attorney-client privilege) and a duty to the court as well. I'm not going to say that there has never been a lawsuit brought into court based on pure rumor but my guess is that any lawyer worth their salt is gonna do some fact checking before jumping head-first into a suit very possibly destined for the Supreme Court if those bringing the suit actually prevail in a lower court.

My point here is that the person making the original accusations this case seems to be based on also said they would provide evidence to support a class action suit if one was launched. If I was the legal-beagle in charge of launching this, I'd definitely be looking at this person's story with a magnifying glass. Question is, has that happened and, if so, what does the lawyer know that we don't. Like netmeg said, this could get very interesting.

Wonder what the odds are that this gets settled outside of court?

hannamyluv




msg:4673154
 4:01 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

but my guess is that any lawyer worth their salt is gonna do some fact checking before jumping head-first into a suit

That kind of discounts the 10~% of lawyers who are not worth their salt. One has only to watch ambulance chasing ads on late night TV to know that. Let's face it, there is some not so scrupulous lawyer who is betting that Google will pay just to make this PITA go away.

That being said, I actually do think that if what is written up there is the case, they may have a case (whether they win that case or not is a whole other bag of worms). It seems more focused on final payout rather than if they were wrongfully terminated.

webcentric




msg:4673160
 4:16 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

That kind of discounts the 10~% of lawyers who are not worth their salt


Touche!

That being said, I actually do think that if what is written up there is the case, they may have a case


I think you're referring to the claim that the plaintiff reported unusual earnings to Google, had an appointment to discuss the issue but was subsequently terminated (without payment) before said meeting could take place. Yes, that sounds less than above board to me too. Also screams "lack of accountability" and "lack of integrity."

wa desert rat




msg:4673161
 4:17 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Typically, a class action results in a LOT of money for the attorneys (who may receive up to 50% of any settlement or award - AFTER expenses, of course) and a few pennies for the litigants (who have to split the rest amongst themselves).

We'll see, I guess.

WDR

superclown2




msg:4673164
 4:21 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Also screams "lack of accountability" and "lack of integrity."


This is, of course, Google we are discussing <BWG>

mromero




msg:4673168
 4:55 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I looked at the repost.us site and it is a free article dispensary. I searched my niche and all that came out was a bunch of press releases I would not use on my site even if they paid me. I think that this type of business model is what helps pollute the web with recycled junk content.

hannamyluv




msg:4673183
 5:34 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

this type of business model is what helps pollute the web with recycled junk content.

I think that too. But the question is whether Google can terminate an account and not pay out what was currently owed to the publisher when the account is terminated, which I think is their current policy (please someone correct me if I am wrong).

Then again, this could be a WAY age old ploy of drumming up attention. They would not be the first company to sue G to do so. Think about it. How many of us went to repost.us to check out that site? How many more will do so as well? How many more major news sources will also talk about this and link to their site? That's a lot of free advertising, especially if you found a lawyer would worked on a %.

I would not be surprised that the original "anonymous" claim was actually them posting to get the pot stirred before they filed this.

netmeg




msg:4673187
 5:42 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Better call Saul!

twright




msg:4673192
 5:48 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Don't be so quick to think that this is bad for Google. Look at what happened in the Adwords click fraud case with Lane's Collectibles (http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2059444/Google-Agrees-To-90-Million-Settlement-In-Class-Action-Lawsuit-Over-Click-Fraud). Google settled for $90 million, most of which was just free clicks (so no cash). The lawyers pocketed around $30 million - and Google pretty much never has to fight a clickfraud case again. Pretty cheap for Google. Pretty lucrative for the attorney. And pretty crappy for the rest of the world.

atladsenser




msg:4673209
 6:22 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Just playing devil's advocate here, but I'm not so sure I'd be so quick to applaud this.

If Google can't enforce its own policies against publishers who are violating them -- and they allow MFA, spammy and other bad actor sites to flourish and siphon away ad dollars form publishers who follow the rules -- that will send advertisers a signal about the quality of its ad network, and they'll leave the service in droves, sending CPC into a downward spiral and causing much weeping and gnashing of teeth here.

Just sayin'.

(P.S.: This isn't a comment on the validity of the case being brought now; just a reminder to be careful what you wish for.)

incrediBILL




msg:4673217
 6:31 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

all US-based AdSense users whose accounts were disabled or terminated with their Google refusing to pay them their final payment.


Lame.

Suing for the terms they agreed to when they joined the program. Fair or not, it was plainly stated what would happen and trust me, Google doesn't 'make money' as some claim by terminating accounts unless it's a premium publisher with $80K/mo or something.

These idiots don't get it that Google loses money shutting down accounts because they have less ad inventory to go around meaning less AdWords income the next month.

It's all about maintaining the health of the AdSense network and those violating the terms don't give a rats ass about the publishers, the advertisers, or Google, except they want to stick their hands further into those deep pockets with this lawsuit.

I hope a judge throws it out but doubt it will happen just because the judge will be star struck with Google on his docket.

FYI - It says when you sign up if you violate the terms and get banned for invalid activity that they won't pay you. Everyone agrees to those terms, if I get bounced, or netmeg, it'll happen to us too.

Problem is the entitlement mentality, the litigation mentality, and all the other mental cases out there looking for a free ride that will jump on the class action looking to get something they don't deserve. It sickens me, they should be tossed into jail for fraud.

https://www.google.com/adsense/terms

Google may at any time terminate the Agreement, or suspend or terminate the participation of any Property in the Services for any reason. If we terminate the Agreement due to your breach or due to invalid activity, we may withhold unpaid amounts or charge back your account. If you breach the Agreement or Google suspends or terminates your Account, you (i) will not be allowed to create a new Account, and (ii) may not be permitted to monetize content on other Google products.


Note they could 'charge back' your account.

Does that mean they could charge you for fraud activity? stop payment on outbound checks? stop payment on a wire transfer in progress?

If all they do is not pay the final balance, which for most of the whiners amounts to some small pittance of beer money, then they should just shut up and be glad it didn't get worse.

DISCLAIMER: My opinions are MINE and don't represent WebmasterWorld, my employer, or anyone else. Yes, I'm very opinionated all by myself and don't need others to influence my moral compass whatsoever.

RyanJones




msg:4673222
 6:41 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

To me, this reeks of being funded by a competitor.

hannamyluv




msg:4673225
 6:54 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

@incrediBILL You are right , and I don't think anyone can dispute that it is in the TOS. But just because it is in the TOS does not mean it will hold up in court. You could put in the TOS that you are handing over your first born child, but that does not mean they can collect and a court of law will be ok with that.

Plus, the TOS says "If we terminate the Agreement due to your breach or due to invalid activity" In many cases, G has not told the publisher what the breach was or what the invalid activity was and because of lack of transparency there could be a legal case here. The question is can they show if these accounts were terminated due to this?

I personally think this is a PR bait move and IANAL, but I could see how this could actually become a case.

netmeg




msg:4673230
 7:06 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Google has a pretty good track record in the US with lawsuits. I'm sure they've had their TOS language vetted a gazillion times by all the lawyers they can buy. But who knows. Be interesting to know how this plays out.

I'm mildly curious as to what type of ad implementation the named litigant was using. I mean, it was an article site. Were they embedding ads in the articles shared on other sites, or just displaying on their own site, or...?

EditorialGuy




msg:4673231
 7:17 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Plus, the TOS says "If we terminate the Agreement due to your breach or due to invalid activity" In many cases, G has not told the publisher what the breach was or what the invalid activity was and because of lack of transparency there could be a legal case here. The question is can they show if these accounts were terminated due to this?


An equally interesting question is whether the plaintiff wants its dirty laundry hung out in court.

RyanJones




msg:4673235
 7:27 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

my quick evaluation of the site named in the suit tells me that they were a service that offered up articles that other sites could embed into their site. When they embedded articles, they ALSO embedded ads as part of the article.

That's a clear violation of Google's TOS. Not sure they have many legs to stand on here.

incrediBILL




msg:4673237
 7:29 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

they ALSO embedded ads as part of the article.


So what happens when those articles with embedded ads show up on domains previously banned by AdSense?

I'm just say'n... ;)

But just because it is in the TOS does not mean it will hold up in court.


Why shouldn't it?

It's a 100% voluntary agreement to "Play at your own risk" and in the event the action of the publisher or his visitors cause click fraud the advertisers should get a refund.

If a court says it's invalid then they're saying OK to fraud, meaning Google's next recourse would be legal, not civil. They've always had that option and rarely hauled someone into court for fraud, typically it's a simple banning.

FWIW, I treat AdSense TOS like the warning on the swing set at the park "PLAY AT YOUR OWN RISK" and if you fall and get wounded, you don't sue them for providing the swing. You opted to play on it so as long as it's properly maintained, there's no negligence on the part of the owner of the swing. The fact that Google reduces payments for invalid clicks and bans sites for serious invalid activity actually proves that they're maintaining the property for the legit advertisers and publishers.

Basically, these guys are suing Google for protecting their advertisers from FRAUD.

Nothing good can come of this, not for advertisers or publishers.

These idiots are playing with fire IMO.

BTW, if Google loses, who do you think pays for these lawsuits? WE DO! Corporations don't have money, they have income. Google is funded by AdWords, and the costs of advertising increases every time they get sued. All those billions in Google's quarterly reports come right out of our pockets from AdWords, Android devices, Chromecast, you name it, we pay for it.

I really don't like giving my money to idiots that couldn't play by the rules. Plus, if they win, it's a complete insult to the advertisers that were defrauded in the first place to know that their AdWords payments are going to the defrauders they were being protected from by Google!

Just remember, corporations don't pay settlements, their customers do with higher fees.

hannamyluv




msg:4673263
 7:58 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

so as long as it's properly maintained

You are missing what I am saying. The question is, was it properly maintained? Do they have the data to back up that they terminated these people for these reasons and therefore had the right to withhold payment.

It's Google, so I would have to believe yes they do. But the same could be said of Chase Mortgage (or any other mega lender) and foreclosures. But they can't always prove they hold the mortgage due to the convoluted nature of the beast.

It is a stupid silly fine line, but a line nevertheless.

As for us paying for it, I personally think that a little more transparency might benefit G and publishers. I have never been hit by a serious policy violation and I really try to keep EVERYTHING compliant. But sometimes, some ideas that I would think were fine, even done to improve advertiser experience is an inadvertent policy violation. Thankfully, I have always been advised on them before implementation, but I shutter to think what would have happened if I had not been advised beforehand.

And I know publishers who have been banned through no malicious intention. They would have gladly cleaned up any violations if they had just been let known what those violations were.

I totally get why they are vague, but in being vague they are opening themselves up to questioning.

webcentric




msg:4673269
 8:01 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I agree incrediBILL. Publishers could really suffer from this if it were to be successful.

The real question may revolve around the term "breach" and I think it's the rub a lot of terminated publishers have gripped about in the past. e.g. no knowledge about the reason for termination. If a publisher's laundry really is dirty and evidence of breach exists, then I don't see any reason why the terms should not be enforced (by Google) or upheld (by the courts).

Very few who have had their account terminated and griped about it have been transparent about their violations. "I didn't do anything wrong" tends to be the mantra. I've never had an account terminated so I don't know what kind of correspondence G sends on termination. Who knows? Perhaps they send a very detailed letter outlining the violations and those that receive that letter are just less-than-forthcoming" about receiving it or the nature of it's contents. Everyone in prison is innocent. We all know that.

Much of what we know about terminations comes from those who have been terminated and I'm sorry to say it but "consider the source."

Lack of accountability on Google's part could simply be a misconception fostered by people who have had their accounts terminated. Guess, my point is that in evaluating my own thoughts on this process, I've discovered that the lack of real information about this process is outside my expertise. Still, where transparency is concerned, I wouldn't mind a bit more if I didn't wind up having to take it out of my own earnings to get it.

webcentric




msg:4673271
 8:06 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

you are missing what I am saying. The question is, was it properly maintained? Do they have the data to back up that they terminated these people for these reasons and therefore had the right to withhold payment.


And this goes to the "breach" part of it. Can G prove the breach of contract? If so, the remedy in the contract is probably going to be found to be ironclad.

IanKelley




msg:4673280
 8:15 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I haven't used Adsense for quite some time but speaking about numerous high traffic volume clients from the past: Google pays out to terminated accounts on all traffic that they cannot absolutely prove is fraudulent. They err in favor of paying out, in fact.

In addition, Google is the only major PPC distributor to do this. Anywhere else terminated accounts get nothing.

Maybe this policy has changed, but even if it has, I don't see this lawsuit getting anywhere. Maybe if they had filed it in France :-)

ember




msg:4673283
 8:41 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

that will send advertisers a signal about the quality of its ad network, and they'll leave the service in droves


And where will the advertisers go?

RyanJones




msg:4673284
 8:43 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

It has always been my experience that Google has sent warning emails as well. I've seen warning emails about lining up images with the ads and I've seen them for putting ads on #*$! / bad language pages. I'm wondering if these publishers ever got such emails as well.

dvduval




msg:4673293
 9:21 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

As you look at the Google Network Members' Websites growth on the Google financial reports, it is pretty obvious this area is one of the biggest Google has trouble growing. I certainly found the payout for Adsense declined over the years, and moved to my own advertising platform. I've also seen many other advertising platforms growing that are direct competition with Google adsense. I'm pretty sure Google either got a little greedy and lost market share to those that paid better. Or low quality publishers were paid too well at the expense of people like me. Either way, I found better pastures.

super70s




msg:4673296
 9:41 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I'm wondering if these publishers ever got such emails as well.


I thought it was common knowledge that they can't be bothered to tell you exactly what your violation was when you're summarily terminated (who knows if it's due to manpower or some other reason). You're referred to a page with a dozen or so guidelines and it's expected you can ascertain what you did wrong.

IanKelley




msg:4673299
 9:57 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

When you're dealing with fraud you generally don't want to tell people what criteria you used to catch them. It's an arms race.

Transparency = you lose.

webcentric




msg:4673301
 10:22 pm on May 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

you generally don't want to tell people what criteria you used to catch them


Perhaps you mean "technique" to catch them. "Criteria" goes straight to the heart of what it means to "breach" the contract. Terminating a contract for breach without (supposedly) identifying the breach is what's driving the non-disclosure discussion I believe. Question is, does G really have a responsibility to name the breach when shutting down an account or do they just have to be able to prove that they were justified if the matter ever goes to court? Seems the former might be less expensive and I don't see why naming the offense is giving away some great trade secret. Describing the techniques used to catch the alleged transgressor probably would be though.

[edited by: webcentric at 10:25 pm (utc) on May 21, 2014]

This 74 message thread spans 3 pages: 74 ( [1] 2 3 > >
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