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I signed up to a set of rules I did not fully understand.... - Input Junkie
December 30th, 2010
10:03 am

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I signed up to a set of rules I did not fully understand....
Google has an evil streak. The link describes a business being damaged, possibly wrecked, because of google shutting down adsense for it and refusing to forward two months of income.
The Adsense contract is a beautiful piece of work. One of my subscribers is a lawyer. She looked at the contract and said “wow – this is a beautiful and incredibly expensive piece of work. These guys employ the best.” Her advice? Don’t bother fighting Google.

The contract is designed so that it is almost impossible not to break the Google rules. If you disclose site data then you are in breach. YouTube discloses just the sort of site data that would have me thrown out – but YouTube is Google which is Adsense.

If your subscribers are clicking on adverts and not buying, then you are in breach. This is a new concept – do not look at an advert unless you intend to buy.

Imagine if that were applied to TV adverts and hoardings. Do not look at them unless you intend to buy – very weird. Do not eat the sample of cheese being handed out in the supermarket – unkless you intend to buy. My website gave the advertisers a chance to get eyes on their products. If they did not sell is that my fault?

The website owner is to be held responsible for the activities of his site users. Imagine that being applied to cars or baseball bats or hamburgers.

Here is a great one – if you are an Adsense account holder and you hear of another Adsense account holder who is breaking the rules then you must report them to Adsense, otherwise you too are guilty by association and will have your account disabled.

Presumably since Youtube appear to be breaking the rules as well and I have not reported them to Adsense then I am breach of the contract I ticked.

Link thanks to andrewducker.

I've been looking at two new search engines: Blekko, which has some interesting features, and Duck Duck Go, which doesn't store information. They both do at least a decent job of giving results. I don't know how either of them are or will be financed. Any opinions on those or other non-google search engines?

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/454838.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:December 30th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
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I have made Bing my default search engine. It seems to be working pretty well so far. I haven't looked into the legal technicalities.
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From:vvalkyri
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
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Gracious, how awful.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
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I knew paypal did that sort of thing to people, but I hadn't heard it about google.

You probably shouldn't let people decide for themselves whether they're evil.
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From:whswhs
Date:December 30th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I figured that Google were clearly evil when they pulled that trick with putting book pages up and telling the authors they had to get in touch with Google to opt out—and then got the federal government to go along with this not violating copyright. For that matter, the whole Internet seems to be moving from relatively unrestricted market dynamics to massive rent-seeking.
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From:osewalrus
Date:December 30th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)

Evil? Really?

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Have now read link. Do not see evil. I do see the problem of large, impersonal automated systems that develop critical safety systems, and the problem when people build businesses based on these systems.

To boil down the blog post as I understand it.

1. Man builds business based on Google/YouTube business model. Is so far happy success story of interwebs, similar to many people who have discovered way to supplement income through other "long-tail" platforms like YouTube, Ebay, and others.

2. Google gets a cut. This is how they make money. In fact, Google makes its money generally by providing a platform for people to do stuff and then getting advertisers to pay for precisely targeted advertising.

3. Something happens that trips some sort of safety system in Google and automatically suspends this guy's Adsense account. Like everything else in this system, it is automated. This does more than keep costs down, it is absolutely essential for a system this massive to function. Google, unsurprisingly, has structured its system to protect itself rather than its millions of partners, so it cuts off a user and then runs an appeal process rather than gives a user a chance to respond first.

Mind you, nothing actually compels Google to have an appeal process. But it makes sense. If you examine the user agreement with your ISP that allows you to access this website, you will discover that you have signed away far more rights with NO appeal right if you are cut off. If you examine the terms of service for EBay, you will discover that they reserve the right to kick off a user for pretty much anything. This, of course, is what companies do when they are allowed to write their own user agreements.

4. Also unsurprisingly, Google has very good lawyers who write legal agreements that give Google the maximum flexibility to do whatever they want. And, they favor their own affiliates by allowing behavior for its own platform which it does not allow to users of the platform. Mind you, there are differences between the operation of the platform and users of the platform. I'm also willing to bet that Google/YouTube has different rules depending on the nature of the "partner."

5. Friend Winter discovers that when he clicked the user agreement and said "yeah, yeah" back when he was starting out and thought of this as a lark, that it is an agreement that totally favors Google. What a surprise, given that Google wrote it and that their business model depends on millions of people like Winter doing all sorts of things -- some of which Google's advertisers do not like and which therefore threaten Google's revenue and the overall usefulness of the platform.

Because here are a couple of other factors to consider. Google makes money from convincing advertisers to advertise with them and use their Uber-secret advertising algorithms that simultaneously seek to maximize relevance to the viewer, the advertiser, and the millions of Dylan Winters of the world. Google guards these algorithms (and their search algorithms) more closely than Coke guards its secret formula. Because those are the things that make Google highly profitable. If either advertisers or web-surfers lose faith in the power of Google's algorithms, Google goes from highly profitable to yesterday's news. Because there is almost no switching cost for users (and only slightly more for advertisers) to switch platforms. (con't . . .)

Edited at 2010-12-30 06:28 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:December 31st, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really?

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To some extent, Google brought "evil" into this discussion by using it in their motto. They sometimes make decisions which aren't obvious commercial short-run wins-- not being totally compliant with China's censorship and not cluttering up their home page, for example. For that matter, choosing to do small tasteful ads rather than gaudy animated banners wasn't the obvious way to make money.

Of course, then I amplified it in my subject line.

I'm not sure what your definition of evil is-- perhaps highly destructive behavior which is also clearly against the interests of the person or organization engaging in it. Or possibly that there's a sort of easy default for bad behavior, and evil requires going beyond it.

If so, Google's behavior doesn't match that standard, but it still isn't a simple economic win. I don't know how much of Google's income is from partnerships, but Winter probably isn't the only one who's been dumped that way. If there's a class action suit and/or damage to Google's reputation and/or to its esprit de corps, these aren't free, though they might be less expensive than not having an appeals process.

Would you say the war on drugs is just a government behaving like a government, or at least somewhat evil?
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From:osewalrus
Date:December 31st, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really?

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I regard the war on drugs as bad policy. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say evil. Evil would be deliberately targeting innocent people, as opposed to arresting people for something I think shouldn't be a crime but is. The disproportionate sentencing and prosecution may also qualify depending on details.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 31st, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really?

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What about continuing the war on drugs even though it clearly causes huge damage and doesn't achieve its goals?
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From:vvalkyri
Date:December 31st, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really?

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to me, Evil implies both recognizing and approving of the damage. I think the people continuing the War on Some Drugs as is may well not realize this.

(although there's also many monetary reasons to continue too...)
[User Picture]
From:osewalrus
Date:December 30th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)

Evil? Really? Part II

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Google is highly aware that lots of advertisers, content partners, and everyone else using the system would like to "optimize" the outcomes to do various things. Those providing content want to persuade Google and its affiliated advertisers that they are getting lots and lots of hits. That supports pay out. Advertisers only want to pay for "real" traffic, to the extent such a thing can be measured. Google wants to keep advertisers happy. It also wants to keep content providers happy. But it is far more important for Google to protect advertisers because ADVERTISERS ARE THE ONES WHO ACTUALLY PAY GOOGLE. It is also much easier for Google to acquire a bad reputation among advertisers, given the structure of the market, than it is among content producers. So Google/YouTube sets up its automated systems to protect Advertising revenue first and then give content producers a chance to argue that it is all a mistake and Google should not cut them off.

6. None of this matters to Dylan Winter. No surprise there. From his perspective, he was going along, everything was working as it was supposed to work, and then -- BOOM -- he discovered he had built his business on a platform he did not understand. Now he discovers that -- surprise! -- happy, friendly, don't-do-evil Google is a giant profit maximizing firm that privileges an affiliate and that is behaving rationally for a profit maximizing firm to whom he is merely one more anonymous input. Certainly the fact that Google -- at least according to Winter -- has not given him any specific details about what triggered Google's automated safety system is very frustrating. But Google would say that if they gave details what triggered their alarms, those intent on inflating traffic would circumvent the alarms. This is tough for Winter and anyone else trying to defend themselves, but so it goes.

7. The crux of the matter, of course, is Google's "claw back" of revenue for the previous quarter before they cut Winter off. But consider from the perspective of Google's advertisers, from whence the money actually comes. The system is designed to prevent content providers from "stealing" from advertisers by falsely pumping their traffic volume. From the perspective of an advertiser, this is the same as stopping payment on a credit card when you notice $30K in charges you never made.

Mind you, in the credit card world, we by law require the credit card operator to eat the charge and pursue the identity thief, rather than have the merchant or the consumer eat the charge. But we do that by law.

Winter appear to think he "works" for Google because Google benefits from the arrangement and therefore he is entitled to be treated like an employee doing work for hire. But Winter no more works for Google than my local grocer works for Visa. (In economic terms, Google and Visa operate what's called a "two sided market." They provide a platform that allows a willing buyer and willing seller to engage in transactions they would not reach without the platform.)

This does not mean that Winter deserves what he got. To the contrary, he is rather screwed. But that does not make it evil. It is how unregulated markets work. If you don't like the way the unregulated market allocates risk (here, it allocates the risk to the most vulnerable party) then you pass a law that assigns the risk and associated cost by law rather than letting the market work it out. Because the bottom line is that someone is going to bear the cost of manipulating advertising results as assuredly as someone bears the cost of false credit card charges. In an unregulated market, it tends to be the party least able to exert bargaining power.

I may think the result is unconscionable, unfortunate, and wrong. But it's not evil. It's just the magic of the market at work.

Edited at 2010-12-30 06:31 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:December 30th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really? Part II

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I may think the result is unconscionable, unfortunate, and wrong. But it's not evil. It's just the magic of the market at work.

I don't understand this sentence. How can something be "unconscionable" and "wrong", but "not evil"?
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From:osewalrus
Date:December 30th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really? Part II

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We have different definitions of "evil." But trying to debate this now is much more complex than I have time for, alas. Suffice it to say for purposes of this exercise I have no problem with things being wrong but not evil (but I'm pretty sure all evil things are wrong). For me, evil is really powerful and not thrown around casually. but a thing can be wrong, or a result unconscionable, and therefore require a public policy solution.
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From:agrumer
Date:December 30th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really? Part II

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I see "evil" as a much stronger word than "wrong", but roughly synonymous with "unconscionable", at least as the latter term is used in general conversation.

But I see, looking around with (heh) Google, that "unconscionable" is also a term used in contract law. Is that what you meant? Because it also looks like contracts, or clauses of contracts, that are declared unconscionable are generally not enforced.
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From:osewalrus
Date:December 30th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really? Part II

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Yes. I was thinking of it in the legal sense as part of the doctrine of "contracts of adhesion."
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 31st, 2010 12:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Evil? Really? Part II

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I would think that a lot (most? all?) credit card contracts are unconscionable. I wonder if they've been challenged on those grounds.
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