Outlawed By the Cloud

By Tim Butler | Posted at 3:58 PM

John Gruber linked to a story from Martin Kekkelund in which he tells of a friend whose Kindle was wiped and her Amazon account terminated for some alleged affiliation with another account. But, she didn't know what other account Amazon was referring to or what violation the company could have in mind — and Amazon refuses to tell her. Outrageously, she has lost her Kindle library of books and has basically no recourse:

Linn lives in Norway, far away from Amazon's jurisdiction. How will she ever find the means to get her books back? By suing a large corporation half-way round the earth?

Linn is outlawed by Amazon.

I might wonder if this is a legitimate story, save for that I have a similar one with Google. For years I ran several web sites, including Open for Business, which depended on Google AdSense for ad revenue. Google offers good rates for advertising and I liked using text based ads over the flashing garbage many ad networks put out.

It worked fine until Google decided I had violated some term of their agreement concerning the displaying of ads. But, they wouldn't tell me what I had allegedly done nor would they allow me to prove my innocence (I reviewed the terms and had violated none of them). Much as in Kekkelund's friend's case, I only received maddening replies from the company. They even refused to pay the last bit of ad revenue they owed me.

Also, as in the story I linked to, the impact was profound. It is very hard for a little web publisher to find a good quality, reputable advertising network that can generate even enough revenue to pay for site maintenance these days. Google has dominated the field for some time now with what is effectively a monopoly in actually profitable advertising, so that when Google permanently bans you from their system without any sort of corporate equivalent of “due process,” the result is crushing.

Why would Google ban my small business from its systems? Why would Kekkelund's friend receive such an unhelpful response from Amazon? In each case — and I would wager, many more — there is no good answer and that is frightening.

For many people and businesses, much of one's livelihood is tied up in just one or two cloud providers. I think the question we need to ask is this: “if any one provider shut down my account, would I be shut down?” If the answer is yes, you are too dependent on that provider.

My conversation with Google is below the fold.

This was the first notice I received from Google:

Hello,

After reviewing our records, we've determined that your AdSense account
poses a risk of generating invalid activity. Because we have a
responsibility to protect our AdWords advertisers from inflated costs due
to invalid activity, we've found it necessary to disable your AdSense
account. Your outstanding balance and Google's share of the revenue will
both be fully refunded back to the affected advertisers.

Please understand that we need to take such steps to maintain the
effectiveness of Google's advertising system, particularly the
advertiser-publisher relationship. We understand the inconvenience that
this may cause you, and we thank you in advance for your understanding and
cooperation.

If you have any questions or concerns about the actions we've taken, how
you can appeal this decision, or invalid activity in general, you can find
more information by visiting
http://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=57153.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

I followed the instructions and appealed, but received only an automated reply:

Hello,

We're currently in the process of reviewing your account with the
additional information that you've provided. Please understand, however,
that there is no guarantee that your account will be reinstated into
AdSense. As a reminder, Google does reserve the right to disable an
account at any time, as stated in the AdSense Terms and Conditions
(http://www.google.com/adsense/terms).

Thank you for your patience.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

When I had heard nothing after several weeks, I wrote back by e-mail:

Hi,
I just wanted to follow up on this. I sincerely believe we have always remained in perfect compliance with Google's TOS. It appears with the disabling of our account, we've also lost our Custom Search Engines. I'm looking into alternatives to replace them, but would love to keep using Google's services if at all possible. I've always been a big fan of Google, so it is disheartening having to look elsewhere.

Thanks,
Tim

They finally answered a few weeks after that:

Hello,

Thank you for your appeal. We appreciate the additional information you've
provided, as well as your continued interest in the AdSense program.
However, after thoroughly re-reviewing your account data and taking your
feedback into consideration, our specialists have confirmed that we're
unable to reinstate your AdSense account.

As a reminder, if you have any questions or concerns about your account,
the actions we've taken, or invalid activity in general, you can find more
information by visiting
http://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=57153.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

I wrote back again hoping to be able to talk to someone who could give a real reason for what was happening. This letter went unanswered:

Hello,
I am very disappointed Google did not follow up on my offer to provide whatever evidence was necessary to restore my account. I did not violate the TOS and don't understand why I am being accused of doing so. As a long time AdSense publisher and fan of all things Google, this is very disheartening and (I believe) unfair. I would really appreciate it if I could talk to an actual human representative about this.

Best,
Tim

I even contacted Google's press relations department in hopes of better understanding the company's policies. But, as it turned out, they had no interest in clarifying them. The best I received was a message from a PR agent who insisted on not being attributed:

Hi Tim —

Sorry for the delay. I can't provide any official comment or provide specific guidance on your questions, but I can offer you some information on background (not for attribution):

We can't comment on specific publishers, but we can say, generally, that we base any decision to disable an AdSense account on the specifics of that account, not on unverified charges from a third-party. Notices of alleged copyright infringement from rights holders are handled differently than typical violations (see [LINK] for more information), but again, we do not remove publishers from the network solely based on an unverified accusation.

Once an AdSense account has been disabled, a publisher cannot use AdSense to monetize content or any other digital assets (such as search results and mobile applications). However, publishers can still use some other Google products and platforms, including implementing a Custom Search Engine on their sites.

Best,
[Name withheld]

In the end I simply had to give up because Google would give me nothing to work with. Shouldn't reasonable companies at least allow their clients the opportunity to prove innocence?


Re: Outlawed By the Cloud

Hi, Rob. Actually, I think it very well could be that, perhaps with a slight twist… I did some reporting (not long before this happened) about a dangerous ministry and I actually wonder if they are the ones responsible. They could have done so either directly, by filing some sort of report, or indirectly by creating thousands of false ad clicks (using a computer) thus making it look like I was inflating my advertising usage myself.

Posted by Tim Butler - Oct 27, 2012 | 11:13 AM

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