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Google and economic sanctions



2:04 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Two days ago I received e-mail from Google where they inform that they are unable to accept accounts for publishers residing in countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list.
I live in Serbia and Montenegro and according to website of United States Office of Foreign Assets Control, there are no any sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro (http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/eotffc/ofac/sanctions/t11balk.pdf).
I participate in Adsense program for more than six month and there was no problems with this, even their TOS does not mention anything about this. I was very shocked and disappointed when I received this notice.
I would like to hear opinions and experience of other fellow webmasters about this matter.
Thank you very much,
Ilir Fekaj

Here is the notice:
<paraphrase by moderator>
Hello Ilir,

I am writing to inform you that your Google AdSense account has been
suspended. We are unable to accept accounts where the publisher resides in one of the countries on the United States Office Foreign Assets Control sanction list.

As your country of residence appears to be on this list, we have disabled your account and ads will no longer be served. We are required to withhold outstanding payments from you, and will be refunding advertisers for the clicks accrued on your publisher account.

We apologize for any inconvenience this situation may cause you.


The Google Team


[edited by: Jenstar at 2:10 pm (utc) on July 23, 2004]
[edit reason] Paraphrased email quote [/edit]


9:49 pm on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hmm... so if there is a list of people Google can't do business with in those countries, why are people being kicked out of the program?

Why are they being kicked out without past earnings paid?

Why were people allowed to sign up after sanctions were imposed? And why oh why are people apparently still able to sign up in those countries if their earnings are going to be "frozen"?

It's frustrating to not have Google's side in this. They may be steering a perfectly ethical course. However the facts as they have come out indicate that if this was merely a "business decision" it is not an ethical one.


9:50 pm on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Why? Because 9 out of 10 applications from the coutries now on our "banned" list were fraudulant, or produced attempted fruadulant sales

I was sending real targeted traffic to Google and that was not a problem.

It is unfortunate that there are good people living in "bad" countries...but there you are.

Bad countries? There is **EXACT** list of persons on which these sanctions apply. Please take a view:


Personally, I think Google should only accept publishers from countries in which they have a language/geographic specific presence.

90% of my traffic is from US and Western European countries. Only 0.2% of my traffic is from all Balkan countries.

[edited by: Brett_Tabke at 11:42 pm (utc) on July 26, 2004]
[edit reason] leave the pure play politics at home. [/edit]


11:10 pm on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

If you are making good money from Google Adsense, then it is time to get a mail forwarding address in the USA, and become a virtual US citizen.

Don't fight the system, bypass it!


11:27 pm on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Would have to think that the legal beagles found out very recently that this was occuring and advised google to stop these actions. If they continued would be in violation and subject to the fines. Easiest way out, stop immediately and advise users of this decision.


4:50 am on Jul 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I wonder if this could be taken before the European Court of Human Rights?

If Google does business in Europe, presumably Google has to obey human rights laws. And refusing to pay someone for a service rendered, after the fact, because of his nationality might be a violation of human rights.

The U.S. government can strip Americans of their rights, but it can't strip non-Americans of their rights.


10:20 am on Jul 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member kaled is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

If I were affected, I would not waste much time chasing either a political or legal solution. I would go straight to the US embassy and very politely ask them to sort it out. Certainly, if a lot of people got together to do the same, the issue might be taken seriously.

You should also write to Google asking to remain in the program pending a resolution of the issue. Obviously, they cannot pay you until the matter is resolved but you could end up getting a big fat check eventually.



2:52 am on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hello everyone,
So to sum up this whole story:
* First of all there are no sanctions in place against Serbia and Montenegro, which can be confirmed on the US Dept of Treasury web site:

Furthermore, on the following page [ustreas.gov...] you can read:
"I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America [...] hereby terminate the national
emergencies declared in those orders and revoke those and all related orders (Executive Orders 12810 of June 5, 1992, 12831 of January 15, 1993, 12846 of April 25, 1993, 12934 of October 25, 1994, 13121 of April 30, 1999, and 13192 of January 17, 2001)."

* Google has allowed publishers from Yugoslavia as well as other Balkans countries to use their services, including Google Adsense and Google Adwords.

* Google has allowed these persons to accrue money in their Google Adsense accounts until they reach the min. payment amount of $100, at which time they notify users that due to alleged (non-existing) US governement sanctions, these earning will be void. At the same time, it allows all other publishers from Balkan countries to maintain their accounts, and earn money, that is, probably only until it is time for Google to pay these users.

* Furthermore, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, Google has allowed users from these countries to use the Google Adwords program, meaning that users from these countries pay Google to run their contextual ads. At no moment, has Google sent emails to Adwords users saying that it would refund them for the money they have spent on Google because of the alleged sanctions.

* What are the ethics behind this Google policy? If they were taken to court, Google would sure lose a lot of money for this policy.


Just to prove those thinking that there are sanctions against Balkan countries, or in this case Serbia and Montenegro, here are some facts:

* there are non-stop flights between Belgrade and New York
* Numerous US companies do business in Serbia, including, but not limited to Microsoft (local office, with Windows and Office software in Serbian) [microsoft.co.yu...] US Steel which has its factories, Chrysler, Ball Packaging Corporation with a factory under works, and even VISA and Mastercard which are the credit cards used to pay for the services of Google Adwords...

The American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia (what would they be doing in Serbia if there were any sort of sanctions?): [amcham.yu...]

US Embassy in Belgrade: [belgrade.usembassy.gov...]

Any lawyers reading this? It sure would also be interesting for Google to comment on their ethics behind different Adwords and Adsense policies...


4:02 am on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

would be interesting to see Google in court and have to prove invalid clicks just like anyone else has to prove wrong doing before withholding money. Sure are plenty of us ready to stand there to listen to the answer. And for those ready to chime in "Google states they can do whatever they want, they are a business and have to protect their self, save your keystrokes, we have heard it before. If Google has not done it to you, sit back and listen to what it feels like to be treated in a way that is unfair, unethical, and just plan wrong. I got bumped "just before a check". How convienent to look like they are making all this money just when they are about to sell stock to the public. Humm...


12:18 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

yes Mario123 you have right.
What do you dear WebmasterWorld members recommend? What to do?
Take legal action against Google?


1:01 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

You are probably right, and you may eventually win, but you will be broke from all the legal bills.

Like I said before, when the opportunity arises, it may be easier to bypass restrictions, by obtaining a mail forwarding address in the USA, and become what I call 'a virtual US citizen', or if your adsense is bringing in quite a bit of revenue, then incorporate your business in Delaware (no state taxes and other benefits).

My rule of thumb is, talk to your accountant, before you talk to a laywer.

I do a majority of my business in the USA, and I run into the 'we only deal with US companies or indivduals' alot, even being from Canada, so I finally gave up and became a 'virtual US citizen' by getting a mail forwarding address in the USA.


4:02 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)


You are correct that there are no sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro. But that's not the point! On that Treasury list, there ARE sanctions in place against certain individuals in the "Western Balkans," an area which seems to have been defined so as to include Serbia and Montenegro.

Why doesn't Google just refuse to do business with those individuals? Well, what if those individuals created false identities or created phony corporations or had OTHER individuals act on their behalf? These "individuals" are considered to be criminals by the US, remember, and I'd assume (maybe you wouldn't) that at least some of them really ARE criminals, with money available to them for nefarious schemes. From a business point of view, if you were Google, wouldn't you do what Google did and stop doing business with anyone from that area? Or would you prefer to be noble, carefully research each account from Serbia, Montenegro, and the rest of the Western Balkans, allow in everyone you could be sure was "clean," and lose money?

In Google's original message as quoted by tebrino, Google says that they are no longer accepting accounts from Serbia and Montenegro. To me, that implies that they are not only closing existing ones, but refusing to open new ones. I haven't seen any basis in the information posted in this discussion for your claim that they only close the accounts when they've reached a payout amount.

They are also REFUNDING advertisers for any money earned on these accounts. They aren't keeping the money for themselves.

What Google is doing seems to me to be reasonable and defensible--I will be very surprised to see any successful lawsuits brought against them as a result of their policy in this area.

I think your real beef is with the US government, which is using US businesses to help them do some of the work of their current foreign policy. So take it up with your Congressman and Senator, if you want to see the policy changed. Or if you aren't based in the US, try to discuss it with whoever handles business affairs at the local US embassy. And get it into the media. May not cause anything to happen right away, but enough bad publicity amd lobbying and policies like this can be changed.


4:18 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator bakedjake is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I think your real beef is with the US government, which is using US businesses to help them do some of the work of their current foreign policy.

Then his "beef" is misinformed.

His "beef" should be with Google, which is making a business decision. Don't **** to your senator, the embassy, or any other member of the US government.

Complain to your AdSense account rep. Write the board members of Google. Go out and do business with the advertisers yourself, and make more money.

I'm not sure how politics ever came into this. It's not a political decision.


4:43 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is absolutely a business decision. I find it honestly appalling that advertisers would be refunded- especially if they already got value for their money. If there is a legal doubt as to a person's identity, Google should wait until the situation is clarified and keep that money in trust.

Many businesses do a credit check as a matter of routine. Would a quick identity check and credit check really bankrupt Google? Of course not. Would it make Serbia and Montenegro unprofitable for a couple of years? Perhaps. But this barely makes a dent in the bottom line, and certainly doesn't incur get bad PR from people like me who would hold G to its do not evil mantra. Sanctions also won't be in place forever...

Demonstrating due diligence is all that Google should do in court if accused of trading with war criminals. IANAL, but I think Google's lawyers are making a mistake on this, just as they made a mistake by going after the person that registered froogles (an obvious mistake, that!).

The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that Google messed up. It is shocking that some people here see this merely as a justifiable business decision... Not paying partners is not acceptable and giving away money they earned is simply appalling.


4:57 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

I understand that people aren't happy about Google's business practices re this case--though I have to ask, perhaps mischievously, how many of you have been in Google's shoes (or similar ones) and made a different decision?

But how can you say this doesn't have a political dimension? Putting the sanctions in place was a political decision. Removing them will be a political decision. Even if Google changed its policy overnight, and decided to allow "Western Balkans" individuals to open AdSense accounts after diligent vetting, the policy would still be in place, creating a burden for Google and legitimate businesses in the Western Balkans.

So I'll modify what I said earlier--REGARDLESS of Google's stance in this area, you should be protesting the Western Balkans sanctions because they place a burden on ANY US company that wants to do business there. It's almost like a special tax: "Yes, you can do business there but only if you spend extra money to investigate all your potential business partners." Businesses are doing the work of gevernment. Political? To my mind, yes.


5:03 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Perhaps if the US wanted to stop taxing corporations doing legitimate businesses there, they could handle the vetting of individuals. Perhaps this is something the consulate could handle?

Regardless, in the same situation, with the resources available to Google, I would have to say that I absolutely would not have acted the same way. This strikes me as so fundamentally unfair to those that were promised money, that I couldn't justify it merely by giving it to advertisers.


5:04 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)


Fair enough--I'll be very interested to see what Google says/does re this when they get out of their "quiet period."


6:13 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What ever google says, eventually, about this matter is not going to satisfy me. That is going to be some lame explanation (I did nothing wrong! And I do not care about anything else)

In moments of boredom I found (using google search engine:-) maybe a dozen human rights organizations, newspaper, US chamber of commerce, few US embassies …emails and I dropped them a letter about this what happened.

I don’t aspect anything but I did not wont to go away just like that.


6:48 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You're so funny. Let's stop doing business with the entire world. Those sanctions don't target countries, they ONLY target INDIVIDUALS which could be anywhere in the world! They are from those countries, but at this time they could be located anywhere in the world. And there is a list of individuals available on the OFAC web site:


From a quick glance, I noticed that individuals in the following countries are targeted:

The Netherlands (Holland)
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
United Arab Emirates (Dubai)

So, should Google stop doing business with any of these countries? Why are all those other US companies doing business and investing in these countries?

Furthermore, WHY IS GOOGLE ALLOWING NEW PUBLISHERS FROM THESE COUNTRIES TO SIGN UP? Yes, you can still sign up if you are from the Balkans region (just choose one of the countries concerned: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia or Yugoslavia - they are all there, and available for you to sign up). If you don't believe me, create a bogus account just to see it for yourself.

ON TOP OF THIS: why does GOOGLE have NO problem in taking money from ADVERTISERS FROM THESE COUNTRIES (the Google Adwords program), it still runs those ads, and I haven't heard of them wanting to issue refunds to those users... or maybe we should just do a chargeback on our credit cards... after all that is just what Google is doing.

Hey, there's a business idea, do a few thousand dollars worth of Adwords campaigns, and then just do a chargeback for non-existing sanctions violations.


9:55 pm on Jul 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is all getting very frustrating for me. I've wrote them several e-mails to Google with arguments against their claims about sanctions from information I've gathered on several US goverment sites and from advices from other webmasters. Google is ignoring me completely! Not only me, but also other webmasters from Serbia and Montenegro and, possibly, other Balkan countries.

As noted in previous post, I know for sure that Google is accepting payments for Adwords program. This way some individuals under US sanction may promote their business and earn money! How this could be? If they really want to respect sanctions, they would stop all relations with countries where there is possibilty that there are sanctioned individuals. That list appears to be quite long.

I took a review of that list and discovered that there are 54 individuals listed, many of them are already in prison or even dead. It does not seem fair that whole nation of 10.000.000 + people should be prisoner of 0.0005% of it's citizens.

Let's get back to the beggining. My opinion is that Google did that based on superficial reading of list on United States Office of Foreign Assets Control website. Honestly, I surely doubt that some war criminal would use Adsense program to finance his hideout, especially when we know that generally, Adsense program is created for smaller publishers.


1:48 am on Jul 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have to ask, perhaps mischievously, how many of you have been in Google's shoes (or similar ones) and made a different decision?

Almost everyone is faced with opportunities to discriminate against people because of their ethnicity. I hope most of us make different decisions than Google has in this case.


10:22 pm on Jul 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Everyone from "sanctioned" countries who's adsense accounts are deleted send your complaints (names,email correspondence with google, websites addresses etc.) to member 7994 at elitesecurity.org forum

We need a little bit of organization for this matter.

The forum is in Serbian and if you can't manage...send me the message and I will forward it.


11:13 pm on Jul 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I just found out interesting information. One of the publishers from Serbia which didn't accumulated 100$ is still in program (?!)


2:10 pm on Jul 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hello everyone,

I got a journalist interested in writing a story about Google Adsense questionable business practices.

If you are one of the publishers in question (Google suspended your account because they misinterpreted the OFAC list, and illegaly suspended your account, and failed to pay your earnings), please forward the following information to mojmejl2003 (at) yahoo.com

URLs of three other Web publishers who are running AdSense ads and have not been able to collect from Google
Full names, street addresses and telephone numbers for you and the three other publishers
Forwarded emails from you and them to Google about this problem (As opposed to cut-and-pastes of the text)
Forwarded emails from Google to you and these three other publishers stating that the accounts were suspended
Any other communications from Google about this, forwarded

All information will be treated with absolute confidentiality, and I will only use it to forward it to the journalist writing the story. The journalist may contact you to confirm the story.

Best regards


2:38 pm on Jul 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Hi all,
Sorry about some of your problems and the Google decision , but I must also point out something that could also be construed as biased against a country

As any marketeer here knows if an order is recieved from nigeria many marketeers will not process the order due to the high levels of fraud from that area . It is a business decision and as a business man it is my decision if I wish to take that business or lose out on the order
In my case it is because I do not believe that any gains would outweigh losses , In Google they have decided that they will interpret the USA government guidlines how they wish to and not take chances with legislation.
Personally my only issue with it is they should be equal handed with Adwords advertisers and Adsense Publishers


2:56 pm on Jul 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

But we are not talking about fraud here... well, now that you mention it, it is fraud... by Google Inc.

Webmasters from the Balkans regions (which I stress again, is under NO United States or United Nations sanctions) have been DEFRAUDED by Google Inc. because they have been allowed to join the Google Adsense program, as well as to run contextual ads provided by the Google network - UNTIL the moment Google Inc. was obliged to pay it's users.

Google Inc. has DEFRAUDED numerous webmasters citing ALEDGED sanctions violations. Given that these sanctions DO NOT exist, Google should be prosecuted, and I am sure there are numerous lawyers that would be very interested in this case.

As per the Office of Foreign Assets control web site FAQ - [ustreas.gov...]

What countries do I need to worry about in terms of U.S. sanctions?

OFAC administers a number of U.S. economic sanctions and embargoes that target geographic regions and governments (such as CUBA, IRAN, IRAQ, LIBYA, NORTH KOREA, SUDAN, LIBERIA, SIERRA LEONE, the UNITA faction in ANGOLA, SYRIA and BURMA [Myanmar]) as well as other programs programs targeting individuals or entities that could be ANYWHERE (such as narcotics traffickers, named terrorists, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, designated foreign persons associated with Slobodan Milosevic or who threaten international stabilization efforts in the Western Balkans, and designated foreign persons who have engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction).

See the ANYWHERE? There is no mention of ANY country in the Balkans region. There is NO RISK in doing business with any country in the Balkans region! Numerous US companies already do business in these countries, including, but not limited to Microsoft, Boeing, US Steel, Ball Packaging, American Chamber of Commerce, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Fedex, UPS, Chrysler, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Best Western, Coca Cola, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, IBM, General Electric, and MANY MANY more...

Do you think that these companies are less smart than Google, and have invested BILLIONS of dollars in Serbia only to see them fined by OFAC? Of course not. Unlike Google, they know that there are NO sanctions against the Balkans region countries (Bosnia, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia)


2:58 pm on Jul 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Here is a list of some of the companies doing business in Serbia:



3:29 pm on Jul 31, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think that in a few days we'll read the following headlines in the papers:


United States Dream team violates Google Invented (still in Beta version) sanctions

Google News (news.google.com) has learned that the United States basketball team (aka Dream team) has violated the economic sanctions created in Google Labs (still in Beta) by playing an exhibition match with the team of Serbia, in Belgrade Arena (more than 20000 spectators) - [ep2005.co.yu...] on August 6, 2004.

Other countries taking part in the Belgrade Diamond Ball tournament - [ep2005.co.yu...] , Angola, Argentina, Australia, China, and Lithuania have also violated the Google Labs sanctions (still in Beta version). It is still unclear how Google Inc. will react to these events, but is expected to halt the development of localized sites in these non-US countries. As for the US web site, Google is considering relocating its HQs to a still non-specified country.

It is unclear whether ESPN and NBA TV will be sanctioned for broadcasting these matches. More information as it becomes available to us.


The rest of you, enjoy the games. I hope that your Google Adsense accounts don't get suspended for your violation of economic sanctions developed in Google Laboratories (still in Beta version)


2:31 pm on Aug 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am in Croatia and my account is working.


3:15 pm on Aug 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

All information will be treated with absolute confidentiality, and I will only use it to forward it to the journalist writing the story.

Sharing such information is a violation of Google's program policies, so publishers who accept your invitation may be jeopardizing whatever chance they have of reaching an accommodation with Google. I'm not saying they shouldn't talk to journalists; I'm simply pointing out the theoretical risks of revealing specific numbers or sharing confidential e-mails.


3:31 pm on Aug 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The situation is clearly unfair to all webmasters that joined, ran the ads, and after the fact are being told that they can not get paid.

Unfortunately, from the first post where a google email was paraphrased, it seems that it is out of Google's control.

...We are required to withhold outstanding payments from you...

Now, this could very well be a case of Google missinterpreting the regulations. If I were in the position of a webmaster affected and if the money was sufficient enough, I would try to see what my rights under the agreement are.

Unfortunately, I would very much suspect that this was run by the legal department before the action was taken. Either that or Google thought that the probability of loosing a legal fight was miniscule.

This 104 message thread spans 4 pages: 104

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