Google is an amazing company that produces extraordinary products and services that its users can use at little to no cost. It also aims to be a moral company, not just an ethical company, with the morally binding motto “don’t be evil.” This is why Google is one of the most profitable, most influential companies in the world while it continues to expand at a more than impressive rate with an increasingly diversified line of products and services. Not only does Google have an annual revenue stream greater than the GDPs of somewhere around half of all the world’s nations, its products and services have been so successful that web developers are essentially redesigning the internet around Google. This means Google’s policies and actions hold greater weight in global affairs than most governments.
Google failing to fully recognize this influence is like saying the policies and actions of the United States, Russia, and China do not have an overwhelming impact on most other countries. A company like Google, which has more economic and soft power with far greater direct influence over individual behavior than most nation-states, becomes unethical and immoral when it starts to address its interests without considering the interests of others, especially the little guy. When companies like Google do not adequately address concerns about their conduct, issues like net neutrality and corporate morality, or even ethics, become little more than excuses to disarm critics and governments from regulating growing monopolistic conglomerates like Google. If Google fails to correct its blind pursuit of its own interests without, at least, openly recognizing the interests of the non-affluent, undervalues its influence, seeks only to discredit/silence its critics, and/or fails to institute its moral objectives as an integral business function, the result will be an extremely dangerous future-Google. Considering Google’s thorough saturation of the internet and the mounting cases of legal action against Google, this is a very real possibility.
Although I enjoy Google’s products greatly with few complaints, I have experienced the brute, merciless power of Google first hand. The experience was quite unsettling. In the wake of the 2008/2009 Great Recession, which was caused by business leaders who manipulated an entire industry to service their own interests without regard to the interests of the non-affluent many, thus doing great evil against the many, the Occupy movements, which originally targeted the harmful disregard on the behalf of the affluent for the interests of the many, and the ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, which the inspiring actions of Google executive Wael Ghonim helped make successful, Google should be far more aware of the potential harm it can cause the global economy and society, thus a morally motivated Google should move to correct any potential moral and ethical issues. With the return of Larry Page as CEO and a renewed pledge to meet its moral obligations, I felt Google would begin addressing outstanding issues in a more responsive matter, not circumventing them. To date, the issue I had with Google’s heavy handed policy has not been addressed.
A few years ago, I created three webpages within a journalist community website before I eventually signed up to use Google’s Adsense program. Almost two years ago, my account was suspended for “invalid activity.” When I tried to work with Google to address their concerns, my multiple appeals resulted in seemingly automated denials, near precisely one week after they were submitted. Trying to contact someone at Google, I found a heavy handed, unresponsive corporation that left me wondering if anyone was listening. To be clear, what Google did was bar me from an essential source of revenue for a lifetime. With the ever expanding pervasiveness of Google Adsense and ad revenue a key part of the “new economy,” which is based on intellectual property and the internet, this means Google has the power to cutoff anyone from a major segment of the “new economy” for any perceived violation of their user agreement without explanation while its current policy is a permanent ban. This is not only harmful to society, especially to the poor and non-affluent, but a failure to offer offenders a chance at redemption for such petty “sins” and/or offer them meaningful representation has been considered evil since the time of the American Revolution. At most, the “invalid activity” in my case would have given me $50 worth of revenue, if Google had not refunded all of the ad revenue on my account to its clients.
Two years later, I re-launched my one webpage as an independent website, yet Google’s policies continue to deny me access to this important source of revenue and segment of the economy. I understand Google needs to protect its advertisers in order to build confidence in the Adwords/Adsense programs, but automatically suspending an Adsense account for a lifetime without a warning, a full explanation, or a transparent appeals process is terribly heavy handed. Quite frankly, even the Chinese, Iranian, and former Egyptian governments have been far more lenient and understanding than Google’s Adsense policies. This overly hawkish approach to punishing Adsense “partners” for irregular site activity, whether it is knowingly their fault or not, is harmful to all users and serves as an example of the harm Google can offhandedly cause our economy/society.
Investigating Google’s charge on my own, I discovered some of my friends and family were just clicking on all the ads, thinking they were helping me. Thanks to a variety of reasons, my webpages had very little traffic, so this helped significantly inflate my ad revenue. I immediately told them not to do so. In addition, I believe I inadvertently violated Google’s user agreement as a result of the fact I plainly forgot what the Adsense agreement disallowed. Google encourages a culture of logical and intuitive thinking, so I managed my ads in a manner that was logical and intuitive. Considering Google has a history of offhandedly imposing its own interpretation of intellectual property, privacy, and regulatory laws to pursue its own interests in a logical and intuitive manner, Google should afford its affiliates and partners a similar consideration. Google does not.
For background, one of my webpages was entirely devoted to learning about and supporting innovative technologies while the other two were dedicated to discussing politics and music. Given the eerie relevance of Google Ads, it is only logical that I would want to discuss and would want others to discuss their contents on my webpages while Google’s clients should want the same. I did, in fact, often find the ads quite interesting and informative, so I wanted to discuss them. My intuitive understanding of the valid activity clause in the user agreement was any activity that revolved around genuine interest; my interpretation was apparently an unacceptable conclusion. Meanwhile, it is only logical that website managers need to be able to review and control the content on their websites. As such, I got into the habit of viewing the ads to learn about the products and services they advertised. There were even some I would prefer not be on my webpages, though I was given no recourse. Given time constraints and other factors, I would often come back to the same ads a few weeks later. I also came to use the phrase, "Check out these products and services to support this webpage" to introduce my ads. Not only did I have these titles on my ads for over a year and a half without receiving a warning from Google, the fact that I was encouraging visitors to take greater interest in displayed products and services is beneficial to Google’s clients, so I felt I was in compliance with Google’s user agreement.
As soon as I discovered Google had disabled my Adsense account, I immediately and openly moved to correct any and all potential violations I may have committed without regard to the logic of my argument and the fact Google offered me no real insights. Clearly, I tried my best to understand what had been done wrong while I was more than willing to work with Google to resolve any violations. Google, on the other hand, would only send me an email which bragged about its “sophisticated” filters that the world should simply trust to work effectively and for our mutual interests. Meanwhile, I tried to offer Google suggestions for a better way forward. Instead of assuming guilt and creating disruptions to ads on a website, thus causing harm, Google could, and should, have found a way to stop payment for the suspicious activity and/or displayed charitable ads while offering a warning, so Adsense “partners” can address the offending issues. As Google is a rather talented company, I am absolutely certain that it could address this issue in a less harmful manner while fully protecting its interests, if it would choose to do so. Instead, Google chooses to use an appeals process that blatantly favors its prejudgment with little regard for what their Adsense “partners” have to say while it bans users for a lifetime. Quite frankly, Google should be able to offer suspended users a far better explanation than we’ve made a decision as a domineering corporation while suspending an account should be a last resort. At the very least, users should not be handed down a life sentence the first time Google notices a user is in violation of its agreement.
It appears Google designed its Adsense policies to simply address its own interests and the interests of its large corporate advertisers, while offhandedly neglecting key interests of its low profile Adsense “partners.” This is strong evidence that Google is well on its way to abandoning the aspirations of its founders. When there is no chance of correcting oversights and misdoings, Google is acting more like an oppressive, monopolistic dictator than a moral and ethical company while they are demonstrating that they do not trust, support, or respect their Adsense “partners” and other affiliates. Moreover, Google does a lot of good for the world and engages in many grand gestures of good will, but how it treats the little guy hints at its moral and ethical future.
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