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Google's 'Potemkin Village'

Greenspan attempted to discuss the matter with Google, not realizing that such a thing is close to impossible. Google does (some) customer service for advertisers and even less for everyone else.

"With undoubtedly hundreds of employees working on advertising alone, all of them completely unreachable except in heavily scripted contexts, Google's amazing money machine was starting to look a bit more like the type of Potemkin Village the parents of the company's founders had fled decades before," Greenspan writes.

Eventually, he did locate a real person. But after this real person reiterated that Google's ToS say it can bounce AdSensers at any time, Greenspan walked into a Santa Clara County courthouse and filed a civil small-claims suit for $721 - the amount Google owed him when his account was shut down.

Three months on, he stood before a Palo Alto judge and went toe-to-toe with a Google paralegal. The paralegal repeated - yet again - that Google's terms of service specified that the company could terminate accounts for any reason. But she refused to say why Greenspan's account was canceled. It's Google's standard stance. And the judge was less than convinced - according to Greenspan.

"But you couldn't terminate my account because of the color of my eyes, could you? I have brown eyes. You couldn't terminate my account because of that," Greenspan says the judge said. "I don't think I have the power here in Palo Alto small-claims court to make you reinstate his account, but I think you owe this young man $721...I think there might be money in Google's treasury for that."

In the end, the judge told Google to fork over $761, including $40 for court costs. And according to Greenspan, the paralegal protested. She insisted that the $721 had already been returned to those who had recently advertised on Greenspan's site, and she asked: "What if everyone whose account was canceled sued Google?"

Greenspan says that everyone should - at least "until Google changes its policies to become more transparent, which might also reassure skeptics that AdWords and AdSense, which have oddly limited reporting capabilities, aren't just two sides of the same ponzi scheme."

He argues that "terminating [AdSense] accounts for 'posing significant risk' just when they started to earn significant amounts of money seemed like a great way for Google to cut accounting liabilities in a difficult economic climate" and that "Google had gone to great lengths (including eliminating the ability to view account records) to make it difficult to dispute anything."

Yes, Google's reporting is limited - as is its customer service. And considering that the company now controls such an enormous swath of the online ad market, it should indeed open up its preternaturally closed money machine. As it stands, Google has the power to move cash to and fro without scrutiny from the outside world. We've pointed this out. As have others.

But Google is also obligated to fight click fraud. And Greenspan admitted breaking the rules on parked domains.

He has a point. And he doesn't. But he's very happy. "I couldn't help but to smile in front of the judge," he says. ®

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