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Not completely related to personal accounts being banned, but something that happened to me recently:

I started a side business with some friends during lockdown. We created an online store selling some hard-to-get long tail items, and almost instantly got some traction and growth thanks to Google Shopping. A month ago we received one of these generic automated mails that our account is banned and we were misrepresenting ourselves or a product with no details on what we did wrong. We went through the T&C's in some detail and we think we did everything they asked, and we have no idea what we didn't do well enough. We also checked in with every single client and we had near perfect scores on trust pilot, I can't recall a single incident with a client.

We've been contacting Google almost daily but almost never been able to find a human to talk to. Through unofficial channels we've found a few people in Goolge but whenever they gave us any advice on what to do it's always "off the record" or "you didn't hear it from me". Something is very rotten.

There are always replies on here about not betting your entire business on Google. Google shopping gives 2 orders of mag better conversion than any other channel we tried. For search-to-buy there really just aren't any alternatives and if Google decides to lock you out your business is basically dead. Lucky for us it was a side hustle. Here in Africa e-bay and Amazon aren't options.

More scary, since then we've found TONS of businesses in our country who have suffered the same fate in the last month, and many are well-established, popular businesses now facing existential threat.

It's incredibly scary that Google's moderation bots can be a single point of failure for a business employing 20+ people.

I had a great blog that started getting me over $2000 per month from Google Ads (several million views), then suddenly after 3 months it dropped to $300 with the same amount of views and never gone up. No matter how much promo I did I would never get past $300. It seems like Google somehow put restriction on my account without any explanation. Eventually my blog died (also because Facebook capped organic reach of my posts after I stopped buying ads. I had tens of thousands of followers but content they shared would never reach their friends after I was no longer a paying customer. Pretty shady stuff). I decided to not contact neither Google nor Facebook about this, because I was worried they will ban me and I needed access to GMail and Facebook (to talk with family). I really hope these companies get properly investigated, because they have unregulated power of altering the markets to their favour. This power should only be reserved to governments and if Google or Facebook are so big, they need to be divided and their business space heavily regulated.

My parents have a business selling low-carb cookbooks online. They used to do very well because of the organic reach they had on Facebook (they have 1 million likes on their page). Posts would routinely have reach in the millions. One day Facebook changed their algorithm and their reach (and revenue) dropped over 10x. They've been limping along since then, and are planning to retire. It's tough having a single point of failure like that.

Facebook's moderation rules have determined that Keto and Low Carb aren't scientifically supported, so now tend to suppress resources that proliferate those views.

I emphatically don't agree with this, but this seems to be the line of reasoning with a lot of things. The reality that much of science is never truly "settled" doesn't really matter.

On the one hand, I feel there are a lot of leeches to society that hop on trends to pull money from unsuspecting victims and under-delivering. On the other, I am very much opposed to corporations that half the population uses daily acting as broad censors of information.

What also probably happened is that Facebook changed their algorithm to reduce organic growth to push businesses like this to spend more on ad money. They've been doing this for a few years now, and have been aggressively doing the same on Instagram.

Love or hate TikTok, the reason it's become so big is that their algorithm actually promotes organic growth instead of hindering it.

That is also entirely possible... I have seen some specific statements regarding my assertion. It's entirely possible to be either, both or a mix.

In any case, I'm using FB and Twitter far less these days than even a couple years ago. I happen to like debate, and discussion of competing ideas. Now it's all ad hominem attacks and vitriol. While I do sometimes engage, I simply don't enjoy it and don't fit well into the echo chambers.

Maybe because all the reasonable people like yourself have left, and took nuance with them. Now it's just the shouty people that remain.

AFAIK the FB algorithm also prefers posts from friends over posts from business pages, since that's the content that people prefer seeing.

That's my parent's theory.

Wow I never thought of that possibility.

I can't stand the censoring by tech giants. It's applied unequally, there is no recourse, and it merely serves to enforce the orthodoxy and drive dissent underground. Honestly it's like the church in the middle ages. What a dystopian moment we're living through when monopoly corporations wield that power in society.

Facebook specifically can go to hell. They're making money by selling people's precious time to advertisers at pennies on the dollar. Jewel thieves pawning stolen goods at 10% of their value is less wasteful to society as a whole. I know they don't force anyone to use their services, but neither do the tobacco companies. They just get people addicted to their product. Just because it's legal doesn't make it ethical.

I used to work on adsense. There is no facility for an "earnings cap". Your revenue is the literal sum of earnings from every click on your property. While ads are showing and being clicked on, you will always be earning more.

If I were to guess, you failed to implement ads.txt and/or your content didn't meet the standards required by some big advertisers, so auction pressure was very low for your site.

So you're saying he was smart enough to grow this revenue to 2000/month, but, in the meantime forgetting something that basic - and the system caught up with him? If so where was the system before?

There have been big swings in advertiser behaviour in the last few years. One big advertiser changes their policy to "no longer include sites about LGBT issues", and suddenly a blog about that could see revenue drop 90%.

In the past, the advertiser would likely to tell that to the people selling ad space.

Then, they’d suffer political blowback for being anti-LGBT.

It sounds like Google is laundering third party behavior that is further dividing our society.

Perhaps advertisers should be forced (by the government, on all algorithmic platforms) to publish their targeting criteria.

> In the past, the advertiser would likely to tell that to the people selling ad space.

Prior to ad networks that automatically match advertisers to display space, yes.

The thing is, though, prior to ad networks, there were a lot fewer advertisers who were interested in spending time and money on doing this song and dance with a slew of tiny web properties. Most of them wouldn't even bother.

You can have no ad networks, or you can have a long tail of low-prominence websites earn ad revenue. Pick one.

Before ad networks, we had a longer tail of low prominence newspapers and magazines than we do now.

1. Low prominence newspapers made most of their money from classifieds. Craigslist ate that business.

2. A low prominence local newspaper has local businesses advertising in it. Your local auto mechanic on Walker Street will buy an ad in a local paper, but they aren't going to spend a penny to advertise directly on your website, even if it has the same readership #s as the paper. Because 99.9% of your website's visitors aren't within driving distance of their location.

The ad network [1] solves problem #2, by making it possible for geographically-constrained businesses to buy ad inventory on websites that only get a handful of clicks from their geographical area.

Yes, ad networks introduce plenty of problems, as people in this thread point out. [2]

No, nobody will advertise on your 1,000-50,000 reader/day website without going through an ad network. Small advertisers aren't going to pay anything for an untargeted impression, and large brand advertisers aren't going to waste their time [3] on so few impressions.

[1] I am speaking about the industry as a whole.

[2] I could mention a few other problems that people in this thread haven't pointed out, too, but that's neither here nor there.

[3] Not to mention that without going through an ad network, and by directly dealing with the website operators, making reports of your ad spend + ROI becomes a colossal pain in the ass. People who work for large advertisers are just trying to do their job, and their job consists of making their boss happy. Something that does not make their boss happy is being unable to quickly say how much money they spent, and what they got for that spend.

Can we have no ad networks please?

Should it also be a requirement for the government to posts what preferences you look for in a partner on dating websites, what gender you prefer when searching for doctors, what race you prefer when looking for cleaning or child care assistance?

This is a ghastly and inhumane comparison.

Companies aren't people.

Oh no, you have hurt the companies' feelings!

Companies are groups of people, ranging in size from 1 to many.

A few million companies are 1 person:


Not sure if they are people though

I think it is more ghastly and inhumane to think that companies that choose not to market to those they disagree with are somehow doing them a disservice by not marketing to them. They are doing them a favor. It would be completely different if they were saying they couldn't shop there, just like if you intentionally look for women doctor's to tell them that you think they are inferior or if you look for dark skinned people on dating websites to tell them you don't like their race. I personally see no positive effects from advertising whatsoever, and am better off if a company thinks I'm too old or whatever to sell their product to.

While I agree, it's also possible that certain ideologies don't actually lead to revenue from advertising in practice. If I'm selling a line of Jewish labelled clothing, then it doesn't do me much good to include pro-Islam sites in advertising. And although the above is a rather specific strawman, there are many other areas of advertising, companies and products that don't have broad appeal in a given category.

As a potentially better example, if a higher than typical number of LGBTQIIAA+ are likely to be vetegarian/vegan, then excluding them from meat based product advertising might be better use of dollars spent.

Just because an advertiser doesn't want to advertise among contentious groups doesn't mean they are being bigoted about their targeting, it likely comes down to not being worth it due to limited response from those markets.

No, he was smart enough to do whatever he did but lucky enough to get that payout. Over time, someone will always optimize for SEO, AdSense & shareability better.

Perhaps their entire strategy was accidentally optimizing for a keyword that was highly valuable for a short while, who knows?

For a short while YouTubers would mention getting a mortgage in the middle of their video just to improve the rate by tricking the algorithm into showing expensive mortgage related ads.

You're assuming that it was Google's system that changed, and not their primary ad buyers.

I've had similar issues with AdSense. Running a site for 10 years, and it was earning $250/day for years, then suddenly it dropped. For a while I had the same traffic and instead of 500 clicks a day Google would say I had 3 or 4 clicks. I contacted them, waited a month, and they said to label them "Advertisements" so users are not confused.

Well, my site is mostly text based and I have at least 50px of space around any advertisement, so they stick out like a sore thumb and are not confusing. Eventually the daily clicks returned, but then in the last year Google started taking back 80% of my revenue at the end of the month saying it's "Invalid Traffic". This is after years of it being around 5%. I've made no changes to the site, all the traffic is organic from Google search or direct visitors. I've never once in my life paid for traffic.

I contacted Google again, but they refused to give any information because they can't share specifics for security reasons. So, I'm left losing 80% of my revenue this year and instead of making about 50k after my bills, I'll break even or make a loss.

Since then I tried switching to another company that's an AdSense partner. Of course they take a commission, but apparently they can actually show me the daily earnings with "Invalid Traffic" removed, and not give me a monthly heart attack and remove all my revenue as a surprise at once.

So, I can see how little I'm making on a daily basis now, but I'm no closer to resolving the issue because Google refuses to give any answers, so I'm completely on my own and taking shots in the dark.

The other week I tried building a database of 800 million IP addresses using lists of all IP addresses from datacenters, VPNs, proxies, TOR exit nodes, and IPs flagged as abusive. This obviously took some time to setup and I stopped showing ads to these IPs because maybe they're bad sources of traffic? That didn't seem to help.

Then I tried setting up some Javascript to not load ads until the mouse moved or a user scrolled. Maybe that would help to prevent any traffic where a user is not at the computer? Nope, didn't work.

So, I'm out of ideas. Yes, I have ads.txt configured. Yes, I have a consent manager configured.

> Your revenue is the literal sum of earnings from every click on your property. While ads are showing and being clicked on, you will always be earning more.

What you said sounds simple. However, like I said, Google can randomly drop my clicks from a consistent 500 a day to 3 and give no answers. Or, they can tell me I'm earning $250/day and then when it comes time to pay a month later, they say they can only pay $50/day and the traffic didn't meet their standards. That's a big problem when they just spent the entire month outbidding all my other advertisers.

Lastly, the site I run is filled with great people. It's a community based website with tens of millions of comments. Users on average spend 10 minutes per session, the bounce rate is incredibly low, the average user loads 30 pages a day. People like it, it's full of quality content and posts, and users are writing new comments every few seconds.

> The other week I tried building a database of 800 million IP addresses using lists of all IP addresses from datacenters, VPNs, proxies, TOR exit nodes, and IPs flagged as abusive.

This isn't going to work well... Both Google and many advertisers will send bots to your site to scan the content. If they see javascript shenanigans going on affecting ad presentation, they'll do something between not advertising (reducing revenue) or permabanning you...

"Invalid Traffic" is nearly always some dirty business going on - either by you, or by one of your users, or a competitor, or even someone totally random hoping to blend their fraud in with some legit sites like yours.

If I were you, I'd hunt your logs for botlike behaviour and close any associated user accounts.

But maybe you don't have to be logged in to see ads? If so, then maybe changing that feature could help. Or at least show a majority to only logged-in folks.

but then in the last year Google started taking back 80% of my revenue at the end of the month saying it's "Invalid Traffic"

I wonder if they returned the money to the advertisers.

Did you have access to the entire source code and understanding of all services running the system? Capping could have been done by a service created by a team you wouldn't have access to and without knowledge something like that even exist (and rightfully so, as it would take one whistleblower to harm the business). So I am not surprised you would write that there was no such facility.

> Did you have access to the entire source code and understanding of all services running the system?

Near enough, yes. Sure, there are millions of lines of code, and I did not read every one, but I debugged enough issues that I'm sure I would have come across this capping effect if it existed and affected more than some dormant/test accounts.

It's possible to implement something like this and you wouldn't be able to find out, as a service sitting between the network and ad servers, it could even be embedded in an innocent looking load balancer. Why would you think something like that wouldn't exist?

Why would Google, internally, implement a feature as if they were maliciously attacking their own systems?

They could use that to suppress funding to websites that are not in line with Google world views and boost funding to websites aligning with their views. They could also use this to help website competitors who pay for ad words. My traffic also got down once I stopped paying for ad words, but the increase of traffic I was getting from ads, was nowhere near the size of the drop after I stopped using it. Then they capped the ad sense.

So they can not pay the content providers and pocket the advertising money?

Not saying that's what happened but there's definitely motive.

But people will always prefer to blame others and when you can blame a corporation for your problems its always an easier target.

While there is truth in your statement, can you be sure it applies to the GP's story?

I get the sense that this was related to the content of OP's blog. The fact that he was concerned that he would get blocked from gmail and facebook sounds like a level of paranoia, from my perspective, related to the content of the site that's why they didn't push farther. I do see how if you were naturally a paranoid individually you might be concerned about losing those connections, though seems high unlikely they would cut access unless you were putting up shady content.

That seems like a bad faith assumption without more evidence. If your gmail is your main way of interacting with the web then any user is going to be a bit paranoid about protecting it even when doing nothing bad or wrong.

Likewise just having content Google deems unacceptable doesn't mean you aren't owed an explanation of the policy. "Hey, sorry, we've decided that blogs on breast feeding violate our policies on content and we won't be allowing you to run ads" is certainly better than silence.

Maybe it is a bad faith assumption on my part and I don't disagree with you that silence on the end of Google isn't right and I am in no way a large tech company booster.

That said, my point is that there is likely something specific to the OP blog that is the reason for Google turning off the ad dollars rather than the counter argument: some arbitrary nefarious business decision by a large corporation to the shut down the owner's blog revenue source to the point that OP is concerned that they will be removed from the platform as a result.

I get the sense that the content is missing part to the story.

I once created a location-based file sharing web app [0] to simplify sharing non-sensitive content with people nearby, e.g. sharing slides for a public presentation with a room full of people. Anyone nearby just had to go to http://quack.space -- no funny long URLs.

I never monetized it, but it got quite a few users and I definitely could have started a path to monetization. I had ideas, such as incorporating location-based ads.

Unfortunately Chrome decided at one point it was malware for some reason. I have no idea why. On the backend I had a 1-hour time limit on files and didn't store either files or location data beyond that. Chrome would throw up a malware warning whenever someone visited the page, and that was pretty much the end of the project.

It's frustrating that they play gatekeepers to the internet, and they don't even have a fair arbitration process. They should have at least made efforts to contact the owner of the website. This should be downright illegal.

[0] https://www.producthunt.com/posts/quack-space

I suspect it was basically legit--somebody used it to try to spread malware, their spider found it.

How is blocking an application because of the actions of one user “legit”?

If their spider were treating sites fairly, it’d also block google search, and the chrome team wouldn’t budge on the decision even though the rest of the company collapsed.

I hope the anti trust investigators focus on these sorts of instead of some trivially-bypassed thing, like bundling.

After the botched MS antitrust suit, I’m not holding my breath.

Write your representatives ! Some of them actually want to help, they just legitimately don’t realize the reality of the situation on the ground.

Interesting. I blocked executable file types I knew of though. It's possible someone uploaded a MS Office file with a virus, a HTML file with a phishing scam or some such, though.

Still, I don't think it's right for Google to use their iron feet to stomp an entire website / product / small business / personal project just because of a small fraction of users abusing that service.

ALL services get abused at some point or another during their growth. Learning to deal with those abuses one at a time is a part of the growth of any product and nobody can be expected to have prevented all forms of abuse upfront. If the owners (e.g. me) were made aware of the specific piece of malware I would have definitely done something about it.

In my experience, a lot of malware scanners don't care about file types, they just look for patterns of bytes.

Exactly. The service was used to distribute malware and it got blocked by google and co.

There was a similar story last month about someone running a URL shortener. It started being used to obfuscate links to porn and scams. Then it got blocked by twitter/facebook and that's the end of the road for the service.

This, I think, is one of the most important things legislators need to look at going forward as they dig into the practices of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.

The massive paradigm shift that occurred once these companies grabbed prominence in commerce is to go from a system where humans interacted with humans in business-to-business commerce to solve problems to a cold, hard, heartless and decidedly dangerous totalitarian algo-driven relationship.

In "the old days", if a publisher had a problem with an ad from advertiser they would contact them to discuss, let them know what the issue might have been and seek resolution for mutual benefit. I other words, adults doing business with adults.

Not so with these companies. They are brutal and cold and have no problem destroying any business at any time for any reason. I have seen this happen to acquaintances enough times on these platforms to be absolutely astounded that we haven't yet seen the mother of all class-action lawsuits. And it would be a big one.

I know people who have gone from having nice lifestyle businesses to loosing virtually all due to one of these platforms suspending their account with no explanation, no conversation and no recourse whatsoever. One day you are putting food on your table and taking care of your kids and the next Monday at 7:00 AM you are on your way to losing it all.

I've said this many times, I am definitely not for the government having their hands on everything. No way. However, this, to me, has become a situation where government needs to become involved ASAP. It isn't getting any better. We need legislators to exercise judicious control over some of these practices. These company have such command of the marketplace that if they suspend or ban someone they might as well not exist. That kind of power should not be allowed to be wielded as capriciously as these companies seem to have been doing for years.

I do understand that fraud and other issue are a reality of these businesses. Well, they need to figure out how to deal with that while, at the same time, being human and human in their treatment of those who depend on the access they provide for legitimate work.

Taking the meta-view: the cynical take is that you only care because you and people you know are in the crosshairs. If you feel that there's a role for government here, perhaps you should be more considerate of a role for government in areas you'd previously thought it unwarranted; clearly, it's impossible for any one person to have personal experience for all the ways people can be screwed over, and for which the only real recourse is intervention by the public-at-large (i.e., the government, at least in a representative democracy).

There's always a bigger fish, you just met yours. I'm all for serious reform (and even dissolution) at Google et al., but I also don't think everything will be hunky-dory just because America's entrepreurial upper middle class gets their satisfaction. While we're swinging the antitrust hammer, might want to take a look at retail and gig "employers" too.

I am not personally impacted, I just know of people who are.

Government isn’t the solution to every problem. Caring or not caring is irrelevant. Reaching for a government-level solution isn’t a good thing, just have a look at nations where government plays a much larger role.


The issue is that so many of the people who say "government isn't the solution to every problem," really mean, "government isn't the solution to any problems except the ones I personally can't buy myself out of." At some point we have to realize that issues that are substantially widespread or entrenched and mature/understood should probably be nationalized at their core, with the opportunity for innovation left to the margins. Trying to extract profit from healthcare or infrastructure in particular seems quite cynical and prone to unfortunate consequences in the name of chasing lower costs.

Sweden is far from a government-controlled society.

The problem with people in the US who have convinced themselves that more government is a good thing is simple: Ignorance.

I mean that as a statement of fact, not a pejorative.

Nobody who has ever lived under heavy government control supports these ideas. The only way they gain support is by pushing the fantasy of big government vs. the reality.

Context: I have lived under those conditions. The average American has no clue.

Another way of saying it is that such businesses have become governments unto themselves. Your account is your passport.

I wonder how vulnerable Google's practices are to corruption. Say you've got your new business on the up swing and one of your competitors has a friend at Google who they offer a bribe to shut down your entire business, at least for a few weeks under dubious or non existent reasons.

Seems like an extremely easy way to make copious amounts of shady cash if you've got that magic ban button at Google.

I'd imagine the average googler isn't going to be easily bribed compared to the alternative of finding some darknet service to figure out how to trigger an automatic ban by uploading malware to the site.

It would be lower wage support staff probably in in the USA not highly paid SV engineers.

Its the same in the UK where I used to work (British Telecom) criminals used to approach call centre workers to get info.

If this isn't evidence of a monopoly, I don't know what is.

The evidence of a monopoly is zero support for these services.

Well, maybe monopoly in east Africa, but that's hardly surprising given the difficulty of doing business there.

I don't think this is quite fair. I'm from South Africa, hardly a backwater. It's a problem anywhere where people mostly search to buy on Google. In the western world it is anywhere Amazon has local 3rd party sellers and relevant adopted user behaviour. Many places don't have that to the point where it's a real alternative to Google for search-to-buy(I don't know the real term to describe this behaviour) ads.

On youtube at least, competitors can flag videos as ‘ungood’ in a number of ways (copyright, hate speech, NSFW, etc.) to entangle their competitors in bureaucracy.

Not just YouTube. One of my competitors spent thousands of dollars on AdWords to send traffic to my site with an ad for something completely unrelated.

This of course led to bounce rates of 99%+ for all of this traffic, which dramatically increased my bounce rate overall.

As far as I can tell, Google used this as a signal that my site was a shady/scam site and removed me from the search pages I used to rank on entirely.

Took nearly 6 months to figure out the problem, and where all this phantom AdWords traffic was coming from.

Google shopping gives 2 orders of mag better conversion than any other channel we tried

Until it doesn't. All businesses should have a disaster plan.

You will be delighted to know that Google is one of the tech giants tasked with contact tracing for Covid.

> selling some hard-to-get long tail items

Was there anything potentially illegal or sketchy about this?

No nothing dodgy at all. Whatever we did wrong it isn't obvious.


Google Updated it's Terms of Service. On 3 Nov 2020

Please read terms of Api.

A good business will ALWAYS try to diversify their acquisition channels. I've analyzed/interviewed 400+ founders and what channels they use to get to (paying) customers [1] and this is a pattern I've noticed across successful founders.

Google Shopping is just 1 channel through which you could get customers. Since you're in Africa, my guess is that SEO is WAY easier than US/Canada, so that's a viable channel. Lack of ebay/amazons in Africa is an opportunity, because you don't have them dominating the top 10 SERPs. I could go on and on and on...

[1] https://firstpayingusers.com

Yes, we're doing all obvious advertising channels, and have some cash to put behind it. Dominating SERPS with very little effort since we're doing long tail. Our particular long tail means people are searching for very particular terms and buying the single item they are looking for, with this behaviour the business seems very viable(and exciting) by the growth google shopping gives. All other channels combined are very slow in comparison. We're continuing trying to optimise those in the meantime. But we've learnt the newish(around here, at least) advantage Google shopping (and amazon search, probably) gives in insane compared to the typical alternatives.

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