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ajross 748 days ago | link | parent

But who are the "customers"? There are no less than FOUR parties at play here: Google, the ad buyer, the content provider, and the consumer. And none of their interests are very well aligned. Being "nice" to questionably fraudulent activity (because let's be clear: delaying a fraud ban means that on the margins, they will miss some valid bans and thus lose money for themselves and their advertisers) hurts Google and the consumer at the expense of the interests of smaller content vendors.

I think the audience here is skewed. People here (pg included) are too wiling to see through their web site admin glasses and not think things through from the other perspectives.



ellyagg 748 days ago | link

I'm sorry, but it's insulting that you think those of us who find these stories disgraceful aren't aware of the issues. You think the audience here is skewed? I think you are apologizing for Google where no apology is due.

It is not a given that Google's anti-customer service policy is the right one. There are other tremendously large multinational corporations who have friendly customer service relationships (e.g., Amazon and Apple) and aside from being the "right thing to do" it's working pretty darn well for them from a profit-and-loss perspective.

I don't care how you define "customer". If Google had confiscated 40K from any partner in circumstances resembling these, and refused contact with their partner despite having previously assigned them an account rep, I'd find this shady.

Like pg mentions, this is certainly an opening. Despite your protests, Google's partners don't like this. When partners don't like something, that's an opening for competitors. There are several other ad networks, some at least reputed not to employ such a destructive and passive aggressive customer service strategy.

The only problem is, Google has a near monopoly for search ads. Can you agree that near-monopoly power gives a company the power to adopt abusive policies? It's hard to tell whether Google really is forced to ignore partner emails or whether they are partly able to get away with it due to their market power.

It's not like companies purposely adopt terrible policies. Of course Google currently thinks this is the best trade-off. And this is now our bullhorn to say, no, we don't agree that this is the best trade-off. If we can't hold Google accountable to showing the faintest bit of decency to this partner in this circumstance--assuming the facts are correct as related--when can we complain about a company's policies?

Edit:

People aren't out to get Google. Please, stop with the "I know it's (suddenly, and frankly inexplicably, IMHO) fashionable to Hate teh Google around here", which is a fallacy closely related to ad hominem.

Apple and Amazon are the subject of repeated flames like this one? Please cite a few HN posts where this has come up. Nobody is against Google freezing problematic accounts. People are against arbitrary-seeming policies and poor customer service. Flames alone don't matter. The facts of each case do matter. And in the cases that have come across the transom here, the facts have more often been against Google.

Do you agree that it's in theory possible for a company handling fraud detection in online transactions to behave unethically? Because it almost sound like you're saying "fraud detection is hard, let's go shopping!" Just because a business engages in fraud detection of online transactions doesn't mean their policies are suddenly above reproach.

We are all well aware of the difficulty of detecting fraud in online transactions. This isn't new information. What's at dispute is whether Google is actually forced to treat people poorly during the course of handling online transactions. Most people say no. Ultimately, the government and/or competition will decide.

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quanticle 748 days ago | link

There are other tremendously large multinational corporations who have friendly customer service relationships (e.g., Amazon and Apple) and aside from being the "right thing to do" it's working pretty darn well for them from a profit-and-loss perspective.

Really? You're citing Apple as a company that's friendlier and more approachable than Google? Is this the same Apple that routinely pulls apps from the app store without rhyme or reason? Is this the same Apple that approves an app quickly, but then takes much longer to approve updates to the same app? Or is this the same Apple that changes the terms of service to severely restrict certain forms of functionality (e.g. in-app purchases) just because that makes its own business model more attractive?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of Google's customer service either. It's extremely difficult to find an actual person to plead your case. It's even more difficult to get that person to overturn the decision the algorithm made. In some cases, it's not even clear that people have the power to overturn the algorithmic decision. But compared to Google's corporate attitude, Apple often seems out and out hostile towards developers using its services.

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jakobe 747 days ago | link

As a Mac developer, I have to disagree. I've had great experiences with Apple's customer service, both as a normal customer and as a developer. I always got helpful answers from a human being within a reasonable time. They sometimes make it a bit difficult to contact support (you have to fill out two or three web forms before you can write your message).

With Google, on the other hand, I only once tried contacting customer service because all the email disappeared from my Gmail inbox. I found out that there is no customer service. The only thing I found was a community moderated forum where someone marked my problem as a duplicate and referred me to a thread where dozens of other users were complaining about the same problem with no solution in sight.

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grabastic 748 days ago | link

He's probably talking about the Apple that gives customers brand new iphones or upgraded macbook pros when they experience simple hardware issues with their original purchase.

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mkramlich 747 days ago | link

That's because the folks that buy Macbooks are customers.

The folks that buys iOS Dev Licenses are the sharecroppers. Don't like massa's rules? Get off massa's field. Or go buy and plant your own.

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mistercow 747 days ago | link

> You're citing Apple as a company that's friendlier and more approachable than Google?

When I had App Store review issues, they very politely tried to tell me what I could do to make the ramming less unpleasant. The experience was terrible, don't get me wrong, and they have completely lost what little confidence I, as a developer, had in them, but they were nice and responsive.

When my AdSense account was blocked, Google put me in an auto-reply loop, very curtly saying I had no recourse and that they would never give me any additional information. They didn't actually growl the word "criminal" at me, but it was implied.

Apple is absolutely friendlier, more approachable, and more reasonable than Google, and yes, that is really saying something about Google.

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hrktb 748 days ago | link

Having someone to hear your claims is a very big difference I think. You can get harsh, arbitrary or erroneous rejections or limitations from Apple, but you get to know why, you most of the time have a second chance, and they tell you what you can do about it, if there is anything to do. You're not alone in the desert taking to a wall.

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adambyrtek 747 days ago | link

This sounds like a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome.

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batista 746 days ago | link

Yes, it would be absolutely like it. That is, IF the guys in Stockholm had build an business environment out of thin air, with a huge paying user base, a nice system to limit piracy, and a complete development framework with good documentation and all, where the captives could freely chose to build and sell their apps in.

Instead of, you know, just taking them hostage against their will.

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adambyrtek 744 days ago | link

You are right, I went a bit too far, but it's scary that developers are more and more at mercy of platform gatekeepers, completely dependent on their arbitrary decisions.

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batista 743 days ago | link

True that.

That's why I'm in favor of government intervention in such cases -- to enforce them to obey some ground rules and not arbitrarily change the game every time.

Something like the antitrust laws.

Because the problem is that the platform owner had far more power than the individual developer or even any software company. Hmm, maybe a "union of mobile developers"?

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quanticle 748 days ago | link

In response to your edit:

Here's John Gruber himself taking Apple to task for an impersonal rejection: http://daringfireball.net/2009/08/ninjawords

Here's Apple pulling an app that shows movie times, with no apparent explanation or contact with the developer: http://www.tuaw.com/2008/08/04/apple-pulls-box-office-from-a...

Here's the lead developer of Facebook's iPhone app (one of the most popular apps for the iPhone) taking Apple to task over their vague rejections and arbitrary guidelines: http://techcrunch.com/2009/11/11/joe-hewitt-developer-of-fac...

Finally, here's Apple rejecting an app because it mentioned the existence of Android: http://www.pcworld.com/article/188696/apple_bans_the_word_an...

So I do think it's fair to say that Apple is at least as bad (and probably worse) than Google when it comes to its attitude towards partners. At the very least, Google doesn't ban you from its service for mentioning Bing.

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pxlpshr 747 days ago | link

Most of those posts are almost 4 years old, get over it. I've been publishing to AppStore since 2007 and it was rough at the start. Apple wasn't anticipating the volume of submissions. It's a much different story now.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

Um... Amazon and Apple are also the subject of regular flames like this one. Amazon affiliates and app store vendors are routinely frozen. And yes, they lose money. There's no free lunch here: I know it's (suddenly, and frankly inexplicably, IMHO) fashionable to Hate teh Google around here (c.f. even PG above getting into it), but fraud detection is a pervasive unsolved problem in our society. Credit card banks haven't solved it. Online sales proxies haven't solved it. PayPal hasn't solved it. Ad vendors like Google haven't solved it.

Criminals are smart, and it sucks. But this is the world we have to live in. Picking on one vendor in particular (and over a IMHO very questionable case) is just unfair and unhelpful.

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cageface 748 days ago | link

As a traveling independent developer, I've run afoul of both Google and Apple's fraud detection algorithms because I'm moving around all the time. The difference is that straightening things out with Apple involved talking directly to an intelligent, helpful human being whereas Google just stonewalled me with forms and faqs.

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DanBC 748 days ago | link

I read people saying things like "Google is always doing this". I'd love to see (and know that I never will) some numbers from Google about how many people get blocked for fraud vs how many people are using adsense and adwords.

I'm not saying Google is perfect. A few stories sound troubling. This one, for example, has a guy making a mistake, but listening to Google and doing what they say and being told that he's avoided trouble, and then having an account frozen. People do make mistakes. People sometimes do stupid things. We probably haven't heard on HN from anyone who outsourced their SEO to someone who was blackhat. (Are the blackhat SEO companies obvious? Would some naive website owner be able to make that kind of mistake?)

But yeah, fraud detection and prevention is unsolved, and would be worth a lot of money. (See also banks: You tell them that you're going abroad and give them a destination and a date. You go abroad. You use your card, and it's frozen. You make an international phone call to the same bank to have the card unfrozen.)

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wisty 748 days ago | link

Then scrap free support. If Google was holding 40k revenue hostage, and blocking 20k a month, I'd be willing to pay 1k to negotiate with a real person for a day.

There's probably only a few false positives, most of the scammers they block are scammers. They can't afford to give everyone a fair hearing. But if you really believe you were unfairly blocked, they should give you some kind of channel to sort things out.

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einhverfr 747 days ago | link

Usually you pay that $1k to someone called a "lawyer...."

Allowing folks to charge for general customer service seems like creating a perverse incentive to create expensive problems in order to make money fixing them....

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chc 748 days ago | link

It hurts Google, the consumer and the advertiser. Some individual site owners are the only ones who benefit from a more lenient stance on fraud.

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Steko 748 days ago | link

Please don't miscategorize asking for honest business practices as "a more lenient stance on fraud". What's Google's alleged to have done here -- deprived payment for services rendered -- is morally equivalent to fraud.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

Indeed. And what Hatchlings is alleged to have done is likewise fraud (or perhaps accessory to fraud). We have no evidence either way (though as I've mentioned, I'm on the whole not predisposed to believing spammy Facebook games companies), yet you've jumped in on one side. Why?

Look, this isn't "PayPal vs. regretsy" here. It's one company in a business area rife with (pseudo-)fraud trying to make a living and getting into a tussle with another company which is badly exposed to risks from the same fraud. Yawn.

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yeldarb 748 days ago | link

I just want to jump in here and say that we (Hatchlings) are also not asking for more leniency on fraud. We've been on the opposite side of the advertiser/publisher fence too and fraud on the campaigns we run is not acceptable.

It's not even necessarily false-positives that we're against either. Mistakes happen.

The real issue is that we've been doing everything possible for the last year to get this issue resolved and have been willfully ignored. We, a small 5 person startup, take care to provide personal support for our 3.5 million users (yes, even to the non-paying ones) and we don't think it's too much to ask for Google to do the same especially with an issue as big as this.

PS - the "spammy Facebook games companies" is a whole different issue. We try not to be spammy either and the FB platform is a similar situation where there are bad actors who tend to ruin it for everyone else.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

If it's really $40k, you haven't done everything possible. Call a lawyer, file a suit. This kind of money won't pay for a big firm, but you can absolutely get someone local. And in discovery you'll learn why you were banned. Or you get some of it back in a settlement.

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Steko 748 days ago | link

"And what Hatchlings is alleged to have done is likewise fraud (or perhaps accessory to fraud)."

Wait where is anything alleged to have been done by Hatchlings? Did you just make that up?

"yet you've jumped in on one side. Why?"

Because the issue appears one sided? {ignoring for the moment the many other people saying this is exactly how google operates).

"Look, this isn't "PayPal vs. regretsy" here. "

Funny it bore a striking resemblance. Web companies grow up and their shitty to nonexistent customer service doesn't go over so well when they decide to shutter a business account with significant balances.

"It's one company in a business area rife with (pseudo-)fraud trying to make a living and getting into a tussle with another company which is badly exposed to risks from the same fraud. Yawn."

There's lots of fraud in financial transactions and credit card issuers (banks) are exposed to this but if your bank suddenly closed up your account and never communicated with you I'll bet you wouldn't be yawning, you'd be screaming bloody murder.

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quanticle 748 days ago | link

Because the issue appears one sided?

The issue appears one-sided only because you're hearing just one side.

There's lots of fraud in financial transactions and credit card issuers (banks) are exposed to this but if your bank suddenly closed up your account and never communicated with you I'll bet you wouldn't be yawning, you'd be screaming bloody murder.

I agree. You would be screaming bloody murder. And that's exactly what Hatchlings is doing. However, I don't think commercial banks are too much better in this regard either. I mean, if a bank shuts down your merchant account and cancels transactions that are "in-flight" due to some kind of automated fraud detection trigger, would you have any more pull with them than Hatchlings has with Google? I suspect not. I think the only difference would be that you'd be getting these notices via telephone or USPS rather than e-mail.

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Steko 748 days ago | link

"The issue appears one-sided only because you're hearing just one side."

This is exactly true and I'm perfectly willing to revisit my opinions if I hear the other side.

However (and a big one), I don't expect to hear anything from Google that's going to overturn the mental verdict I've formed that this is a lousy, shitty way to do business and treat your customers.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

Not to continue a pointless flame war, except to respond to your very last point: you realize that banks do terminate merchant accounts at the drop of a hat, right? The situation there is absolutely symmetrical with the one here. They also will freeze a customer's card at the barest hint of strangeness, forcing you to call in and verbally OK the transactions. This happens to me once a year at least.

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bromley 748 days ago | link

When you call your bank they generally pick up the phone. In contrast it seems the only way to get help from Google is to know someone influential or have a high profile blog on which you can embarrass them publicly.

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DanBC 748 days ago | link

> forcing you to call in and verbally OK the transactions

This is the bit that people seem to get most frustrated about. Banks have telephone numbers. Even if that support is outsourced to Mumbai you still get a person to talk to.

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Steko 748 days ago | link

"Not to continue a pointless flame war,"

I must be missing something, please quote one thing that I said that you felt was flaming you.

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cft 748 days ago | link

You have a very narrow understanding of what internet is. It hurts Google, in an indirect, but very deep way: Google should be most interested in the proliferation and diversity of independent sites, since this is what they search. They should be especially interested in the long-tail. When they cut revenue sources for them, the eyeballs go to places that they cannot touch/financially hurt or more importantly they cannot search, i.e. to Facebook.

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mistercow 748 days ago | link

Consumers are not much hurt by false negatives in fraud detection. Consumers are significantly harmed by false positives because they lose access to ad-supported content. I would still be regularly updating my old blog and entertaining my readers if it were profitable like it was before Google accused me of being a scam artist and shut down my account.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

That doesn't follow. If ads don't make money there won't be ad supported content. Consumers are the beneficiaries of a very complicated three-way relationship (advertiser/broker/content). Of course they get harmed when that relationship stops working, it doesn't matter which direction it happens in or whose fault it is.

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mistercow 748 days ago | link

I did not say that consumers were not harmed by false negatives. I said they were harmed more by false positives.

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ajross 748 days ago | link

Right, and I said that's wrong. Or it's only speciously right: content providers are smaller and have less buffering capacity, so in the event that the cash flow to them is interrupted they will drop faster than the broker or advertiser. But all three parties have to be making money for the consumer to derive benefit from the system.

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mistercow 747 days ago | link

Actually you said that it doesn't matter in which direction the system breaks, which is preposterously false.

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chc 748 days ago | link

That's true, I should have explained that better. The hypothesis I was working from is that, on the whole, Google probably enables more ad-supported content than it hurts with false positives. For every one unfortunate blogger like you, there are a thousand more who would be harmed if the whole ad network were delegitimized by fraud. Eventually, I think the ad networks would become even seedier than they already are and this (combined with the lack of legit ad revenue) would hurt consumers.

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mistercow 748 days ago | link

That is a reasonable point, but I do not think that Google's approach is the best means to forming a credible ad network that enables both marketing and the monetization of free content. A system with better communication, a reasonable appeals process, and some effort to recognize and address problems like third-party sabotage and friends who think they're doing you a favor, would better serve consumers, advertisers, and creators. The problem is that the benefits to Google of such a system don't outweigh the costs.

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vidarh 747 days ago | link

You'd do tremendously better than Google in these circumstances just by letting people you ban actually talk to a real customer service representative with the power to investigate the problem properly and give decent human feedback after you've banned them.

The biggest problem is not the initial ban, but the total stonewalling from Google afterwards.

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