Did Google order staff to 'steal' web ad cash from publishers? THE TRUTH
Mountain View advertising king scrambles to set record straight
Google has denied allegations made by a self-styled “former Google employee” – who claimed he was ordered to take part in “theft of money” from “thousands upon thousands” of publishers using Google AdSense.
According to a missive posted anonymously onto Pastebin on Tuesday, the web king told its staff in 2009 that it would begin axing accounts of online publishers who were making too much cash out of displaying Google ads on their sites.
The Mountain View company dismissed the claims as "complete fiction."
Among other things, the uncorroborated whistleblower alleged that the "first big batch of bans [on publishers] happened in 2009." The explosive post claimed:
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 [sic] 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.
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.
The alleged "extreme quality control" practice went on for years with the largest number of bans coming in April 2012, it was claimed.
The supposed insider accused Google of threatening AdSense employees with lay-offs if they failed to "enforce the company's wishes." All the fun of working at Mountain View apparently washed away with the alleged demands.
It was further claimed that complaints from some publishers whose money didn't materialise were "erased without even being opened" by Google.
Legal action from other publishers was settled out of court, according to the Pastebin post.
By December 2012, Google – it was claimed – brought in a new policy, dubbed AdSense Quality Control Color Codes that was internally known as AQ3C. It allegedly grouped publishers into different categories based on how troublesome they were to Google's bottom line.
Google's tactics eventually led to incorporating its other services into "assisting the 'quality control' program," the alleged whistleblower claimed.
"What they came up with will anger many users when they find out. It involved skewing data in Google Analytics," according to the Pastebin post.
Web goliath hits back – you should read the T&Cs
Google strenuously denied the allegations on Tuesday. In a statement to reporters, it said:
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.
All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers.
When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher's account and refunding affected advertisers.
The company's head of tackling web spam Matt Cutts took to Twitter to try to dispel the claims. He said:
In response to an earlier tweet from another Twitter user asking him about the Pastebin “leak”, Cutts rubbished it, saying the purported insider didn't even get his internal Mountain View jargon right.
He added, in a comment on Hacker News:
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.
Cutts then claimed to have confirmation that the allegations were indeed "BS", while pointing out that the Hacker News user posting a link to the leak had never taken part in any other discussion on the site.
Google had not returned The Register's request for comment at time of writing. ®