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Why Google Bothered to Appeal a $761 Small Claims Case (and Won) (huffingtonpost.com)
195 points by nhaschka on June 9, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



Am I the only one sypathetic to Google here? It seems to me that this guy's self-righteousness is based on a serious misunderstanding:

After pointing out that in the United States of America, the accused are generally given the right to know both the crimes they are being accused of, and the identities of their accusers, Mr. C. responded by saying that such thinking did not apply to Google's terms of service. Effectively, Google's position was that it was above the law, and if not any law in particular, then at least the spirit of the law. Irked, I decided to find out if such a position was tenable.

Well, he found out, through the appeals court, that his position was not tenable. The rights of those accused of crimes have no bearing on the TOS, a contract he agreed to, which clearly states that his account can be cancelled for any reason. His whole lawsuit was predicated on the fact that he didn't think the reason they gave-- that his account "posed a significant risk to [..] AdWords advertisers"-- was good enough.

Now, based on this, why would Google let a lower court ruling stand? It's not the $761, it's the precedent.


Not only that, but he even acknowledges that he did the wrong thing by failing to understand or adhere to the TOS in the first place. It's okay though, because he feels entitled to use private services.

> Though AdSense for Domains was closed to the public for years, Google did finally open it up December 11, 2008, just two days after my account was cancelled. Had it allowed my company to join in the first place, I would have had no reason to create my own billboard using "normal" AdSense since Google would have already taken care of it for me, and no violation would have occurred.

"Had prohibition been repealed before I did my rum running, no violation would have occurred."


> Am I the only one sypathetic to Google here?

Google was in the right for terminating the account but they legitimately lost the first case. They did not provide evidence of why the account was terminated. Not to the author nor to the small claims court. So they lost and they deserved to lose, in my opinion. During the appeal, they finally provided that information and won.

The issue isn't so much who was right or wrong but how terrible (or non-existent) Googles customer service is. They can't answer simple questions and if you've really been terminated unjustly, you have no way of knowing and they keep your money.


They don't keep your money. They return it to the advertisers who paid for their ads to show up on worthless sites.


That's a good point, and makes me wonder how the law applies here. My understanding was that you can only appeal on a point of law, not to introduce additional evidence that you didn't bother to bring to the first trial.


Is the small claims process different?


> Am I the only one sypathetic to Google here?

Legally, I think they're right. Morally? Not really.


I agree. I remember when the first story circulated. It seemed a little fishy and it wasn't entirely clear what terms of service the guy violated, if any at all. Now, it's pretty clear that he did violate the terms of service and didn't have much of a case in the first place.

It's ridiculous, though, that it had to be taken this far in order for him to get a straight answer. I think you really have to question the judgment of the people that, through flawed policies or otherwise, allowed this to happen.

Even if things were allowed to start spiraling out of control it seems like there were opportunities to resolve this at a much lower cost-- both financial and in terms of public image. Why not make a phone call to see what it's all about before sending people off to small claims court with boxes of evidence?


Except that his TOS violation is so flagrant that he must have known what he was doing.


It's flagrant now that we know the story. There's no argument there. It was not so clear when the story first broke. I think the whole point of this is the lengths one has to go to just to get a clear answer.

Not to mention, they had a service specifically designed for what he was doing. They easily could have converted him over to that one instead of cutting him off with nothing more than a vague, canned email about violating terms of service.

This is a bad way to treat customers any way you look at it. I think it's important to treat all customers well-- even the ones you're ending a relationship with.


It was not so clear when the story first broke.

That's because he broke the story himself! Of course he kept it unclear in order to draw more sympathy.


>Not to mention, they had a service specifically designed for what he was doing.

But only after they kicked him off.


Google might not actually be interested in customers who may be trying to game the system. Easily revealing the violation would give people like the author reason to try various manipulations to just barely follow TOS and keep the normal AdSense.


By that logic would it be acceptable for a government to not inform citizens of the laws which they are bound by in order to prevent them from finding loopholes? Yeah, I know we're talking about a corporation and not a government, but I just want to put this in a different perspective.

Opacity is not the solution and neither is a policy of permanently banning customers at the first sign of trouble. Besides, a customer gaming the system by barely operating within the rules is still following the rules. Of course, he or she may be in complete violation of the spirit of the rules, but it's technically not a violation. It's likely a flaw in rules.

I'm well aware that there are lots of people out there who are looking to take advantage of the system, but when Google goes around banning anyone who violates a rule or operates on the fringe without any kind of appeal process they're bound to catch someone who just made an honest mistake.


I mostly agree, but a few points...

Governments don't have the right to refuse service that corporations do. I'm fine with corporations improving the experience of everyone but those who consider how nearly to approach 'pick a link' text, but it might be nice if an independent arbiter could determine if these bans actually follow the spirit of the rules before enforcing them.

Google has restored accounts that have been wrongly disabled. The length of time that it takes to do this does seem unbearable.


You solve that by fixing the TOS, not jerking your customers around.


TOS 1.0

Play nice, and have fun!

TOS 1.1

Play nice (no links to shock sites), and have fun!

TOS 1.2

Play nice (no links to shock sites, no embedded images of shock sites), and have fun!

TOS 2.0

Play nice on our text only boards. Have fun!

TOS 2.1

Play nice and do not try to evade the ASCII image filters. Have fun!

TOS 3.0

<Insert 30 pages of legalese>

Customer 3.0

"Aw, I hate when they jerk you around with 30 pages of legalese."


Is that really worse than a service with a simple TOS that can be pulled for no specific reason? I'd prefer to have all the rules on the table, even if the result is a stack of legalese. At least then I know the nature of what I'm dealing with.


What's the moral imperative that Google is overlooking? To patiently explain to somebody trying to game your system exactly which behaviors tipped you off?


If you simply cut people off, no questions, no appeal, no nothing, you will cull a certain number of innocent people. I can't be certain this guy falls into that category, but it seems lame to not try and settle things amicably in cases where there is a good faith effort to comply. It's just more of their crappy customer service.

Remember when axod got the axe a while back? No explanations, no appeal, no contact, no nothing. They did reinstate him, but it took them quite a while.

Expanding on this a bit, I think the 'pick a link' pictured in the image above was definitely grounds for not getting his money. On the other hand, what happens if you have some kind of user generated content, and someone writes the magic words... and you have ads on the page:

http://twitter.com/davidnwelton/status/2093274918

Edit: one "good faith effort to comply" might be this: Google says your page is in violation of their terms, and needs changing (perhaps omitting the exact details), and that earnings from it will not be paid. You have the option to accept that, fix your page, and get on with things. Something like that might go a long ways to sort out the wheat from the chaff.


Comming up with a reasonable excuse that you might not be a slimeball is not that hard. Dealing with such people is a waste of time. Tipping people off as to why you think they are a slimeball is also a bad idea.

PS: Never asume everyone at a large company knows what everyone else is doing.


Yeah, I can appreciate that it's not easy, and that there are doubtless legions of slimeballs trying to screw Google and their advertisers over. But when Google screws over an innocent person, that's pretty lame too.


In this case, they kept enough of the guy's earnings to afford to pay someone to send him a better email.


Yes, they hit innocent people sometimes, but this guy is clearly not in that category!


This looks like bad faith argumentation to me. Altering a few of your word choices, we get:

How was Google supposed to act here? To patiently explain to one of its customers how to use the right Google service for the job he wants to do?


Except that in this case, "the job that he wants to do" (AdSense for parked domains) is explicitly prohibited by the TOS. I don't think Google is the one acting in bad faith.


As a data point - is it possible in AdWords to exclude 'Adsense for Domains'? I didn't see anything like it in a quick look around, but there are a lot of settings. I'm guessing it's there somewhere. Is it on by default? Off by default? (I really don't know; it's not a rhetorical question, but it would be germane to the discussion)

The thing that gets people's sympathy is that Google set up a system to do exactly what he wanted to do a few days later. Couldn't they have struck a deal?


Maybe they could have if he hadn't been such a jerk about it. Note that I'm just going by what he wrote in the article directly linked, I didn't think it worth the time going back through his earlier articles, since the last one HE wrote about it made himself look a bit of a jerk.


Well, actually, his position was tenable. He did find out why his account was disabled. He lost the case, but that sounds like it was beside the point.

I find the argument that you have no right to know why the other party claims you have breached the contract because it says so in the contract highly dubious. I mean, Google might claim that you have breached the contract, but that's an accusation you have to be able to defend yourself against, either in civil court or in arbitration.

Otherwise, what would stop people from just arbitrarily claiming that the other parties to all their contracts have breached their terms?

The only reason Google can get away with it is beacuse they are holding the cash. And if someone who owes me money just start claiming that they no longer does so, they'd better be prepared to prove why. Anything else is a travesty.


Not a lawyer, but yes, his case was predicated on that the answer was not good enough. It was a non-answer, and hypocritical to boot, given their "AdSense for Domains" offering.

When using three specific words in a page can get you banned for life, basic fairness suggests that they at least tell people what the hell those words are.

Legally he had no standing, but what does that mean for regular people? We can be abused at will because all corporations force us to sign contracts full of weasel words?


>> all corporations force us to sign contracts

Last time I checked I was free to sign whatever I like. Don't like the AdSense contract.. don't sign it. Sell the ad space yourself.


Imperfect markets. Don't trot out that tired horse that goes "you have every choice possible, how could you complain about the one you picked?"


So he can try to game the system by avoiding the three words?

The point is, he was in violation of the terms of the TOS. Google didn't like what he was doing, and cancelled his account-- which is what he agreed to when he signed up.

As for your last point: um, what? Corporations force us to sign contracts? If you want to use Google's service, you play by their rules. Is that really "abuse"?


Why is everybody so concerned about poor google having to deal with people that could "game their system" ?

I don't really care one way or the other about the merits of this case. But courts and legislatures in this country have put limits on contracts. The notion of "Well, you agreed to the contract, so..." has been thrown out long ago.

There is nothing legally wrong with the Google contract. But if you want to talk about what's right in a moral sense, then it's right that if you unilaterally terminate a contract, and there is financial consideration involved, you should inform the other party about the termination and include a reason for it.

There are limits on contract law in this country precisely because both parties in a contract are often on unequal footing. And that's certainly the case here. Consumers are forced to consume contracts as-is that are nearly always one-sided or slanted towards the bigger party.

There's no specific relief to this problem as far as I can see. But there's also no need to sit here and advocate it, either, which is what you're doing. Unless, of course, you find yourself personally benefiting from such uneven contract negotiation. In which case, more power to you, and also, you're doing nothing good for humanity.


The three words thing was an overkill by Google, but in the first place using normal adsense ads on parked domains (instead of Adsense for Domains) has been strictly disallowed since the beginning and Google has been very clear on that.


Except, of course, when the guy called and asked why he was banned.


He was apparently quite aware of why he was banned, based on the fact he had an opening argument ready to go as to why that reason was unfair.

Google should say why an account is canned, out of courtesy, but this guy was clearly trying to make extra money out of his domain squatting, something prohibited by the TOS.


> Google should say why an account is canned, out of courtesy, but this guy was clearly trying to make extra money out of his domain squatting, something prohibited by the TOS.

I agree with both your points. I was only trying to make your first point.


I think you shouldn't place too much importance on the "pick a link" phrase, since Greenspan may be exaggerating its significance to win the reader's sympathy.

The phrase may appear in the evidence against Greenspan not because it is part of a heuristic or a list of internal guidelines but because a Google employee used it in his description of why he thought the site violated the Google TOS.

And as far as reasons go, "an employee thinks your site violates the TOS" may be the most that Google can reasonably volunteer. Imagine if your e-mail provider had to reply to each spam message, telling the sender what words triggered the spam filter.


The three words are known to people who actually look at the TOS.

It is not hypocritical for a credit card company to offer different services to businesses and individuals, or even to different individuals, nor is it hypocritical to offer differing subsets of services to different customers.


Low court precedents are not binding.


Correct, but if not appealing the decision following the publicity splash Greenspan made with his first article would have encouraged thousands more micro-suits, each of which costs Google time and money to respond to. Winning their appeal is likely to reduce the number of litigants to a trickle rather than a flood.


If this was the Court of Appeal, then it is binding on the lower courts. I really thought that the reason why google cared to appeal this case was because the court of claims decided that google can not terminate an account without giving the reasons for doing so. That I would assume, is quite a significant decision for google, bearing in mind the way they currently operate. If that was the case, and if I was this guy, I would take it up to the Supreme court just on that one point and nothing else.


The rights of those accused of crimes have no bearing on the TOS, a contract he agreed to, which clearly states that his account can be cancelled for any reason

I am a bit confused by the article. It starts with saying that he won against google as apparently google has no right to terminate the account without giving any reason.

Once we are in the appeal court however, the whole discussion is on the reason for google terminating his account and if this was right. There is no talk whatever of whether google can terminate the account without giving any reason, which I thought and assumed this was the whole point of the appeal.


>that his position was not tenable.

He actually got his answer and got to face his accuser in court. So his position was tenable.


I dunno. This bit:

"This is what I tried to explain in my opening arguments. Despite Google's objections to what they perceived to be technical violations of their AdSense terms of service, they also had an entirely separate (but confusingly similar-sounding) program called AdSense for Domains, which handled the exact problem I was trying to solve--that of using advertising to profit from "parked," or unused, domain names, much like putting a billboard on a vacant lot."

strikes me as his saying that he was actually quite aware why Google objected and terminated his account.

That, coupled with his arguing in court that Gee whiz, he was totally following the terms of service for a completely different service that he wasn't actually paying for just kills my sympathy for him.

Yes, Google should tell people why it terminates these accounts. On the other hand, this guy comes across as a domain-squatting asshat.


Asshats have rights too.


Do they have the right to breach contracts?


They have a right to be told how the contract was breached, especially when hundreds of dollars are on the line.


Where is that right spelled out or granted?


I don't think you have a right to an answer for your question.


I agree; I don't think his rights have been violated, though.


What did Google expect of this? Did they think they would fight this guy, and suddenly he would give up writing about this case?

I feel like they got a pyrrhic victory here.If your customer is getting his answers in the form of evidence at a hearing, you're doing something wrong, regardless of whether or not he was actually in violation of the terms of use.

Anyway, thanks for adding this. It's good to read how it all ended up.


Google did the right thing. He comes across as a whining scammer.


Not to me, Google comes across as muscling out a small business for their own interest. Isn't this the definition of using a monopoly position for anti-competitive practice? Their position is completely undermined as soon as they introduce a product for squatting exactly like what he had made on his own.


Yeah did you see the screenshot? Do you think it's a good thing to have him defrauding advertisers like that, or a bad thing?

Tip: Don't "make a product" out of someone elses product, if it violates the T&C.

The difference is, advertisers can choose if they wish their adverts to appear on parked domains or not with the official product.


Note that at the time of the original termination of his account, the terms of use did not forbid use with parked domains and the service itself did not provide any distinction between parked domains and regular domains.


Last time I looked into adsense was around 2006, and I remember it being pretty clear that sites without content were not eligible.


And the text prompting people to click on the adsense is in clear breach of the T&C.


Spammers will be bad, I expect that. I expect better of Google, though.


What the aces? Google is defending the terms of service explicitly agreed upon by this person. He completely and flagrantly went against those terms. The only intriguing part of this whole story is how seriously Google takes their terms of service.

Google defended the terms from someone who very clearly broke them.

That guy who was shut out of Google Checkout for absolutely no reason? Legit. This guy? Nope. He clearly broke the rules and paid for it justly.


We all agree Google should cut the spammers off, but they need to have a rational policy for how they communicate with their partners, customers, etc.

I expect better from Google regarding the customer service. It shouldn't be a mystery to anyone what happened to their account/balances at Google and he shouldn't have to go to court to figure this out. It's frightening to me that we all depend so much on Google and yet you can chock up the bad service to "defending the terms of service".

Sure he has no recourse in the law for this, he did badly, justice was served-- but that doesn't mean it's right for Google to behave the way it does with its users. Google should be open, frank, and clear in their dealings.


Did you ever find out why they banned you?


Someone tried unsuccessfully to login to my account a few times. They messed up... and yes, it was a pain to get any response from them for a few days, but I love them again ;)


Unless the goal is to communicate to small-timers that picking and publicizing legal fights with them will cause them to go nuclear.


What they are really afraid of is some slick lawyer getting many such small timers together for a class action lawsuit.


They don't care. They don't have to. They are the search company.

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/76/76aphonecompany.phtml


If I was Google, I would have been really annoyed too:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rustybrick/3607264237/


Perhaps, but they could've warned him to remove it, or at least told him when he asked for it after the fact.

Playing a guessing game about some decision with a company that nullified a debt to you by said decision is a bit classless.


He was a domain squatter with text directing people to click on the google ads. He's violating the TOS at the time in multiple ways, and clearly isn't providing any value.

Spending time holding the hand of every pissed off squatter/spammer isn't in Google's interest.


It's not that hard to display a message "Your account has been banned because ...". That's all he asked.

As for squatters... AdSense for Domains is probably making Google some good money. I too wished they didn't, but they did.


It's not too hard for people to not flagrantly violate ToS. That's all they asked.

Adsense for Domains is something advertisers can opt out of.


Even people you don't like have rights.


And those rights / obligations are listed in the Terms of Service, where he was explicitly told he didn't have the "right" to an explanation. He may deserve one in our eyes, but he has no legal ground to demand it as a 'right'.


This is the same argument made for sealed, private laws.

Look, closing someone's account and taking their money for unspecified "reasons" is wrong, if not illegal. Banks can't do it. Credit card companies can't do it. Any account where you leave money... can't do it.

Maybe this guy was sketchy, but here's how Google has to handle these things:

* stop showing ads

* close the account for all future ads

* give a window of time for him to disburse the money he

already earned for clicks, and if he withdraws in that time, great, otherwise, too bad for him

* close the account permanently

Thomas Fuchs, who wrote Script.aculo.us, had over $2k stolen by Google in this manner. As you can see, http://script.aculo.us/ is clearly not domain squatting nor does it tell people to click. It's a bonafide OSS project used by hundreds of thousands of people.

So why was his money seized? We'll never know, eh?

Google also closed my Checkout account under similar circumstances. Namely, I did nothing wrong. The only reason I got my money back was because my blog post got such incredible traffic that it started a debate on the internal mailing list.

Why was my account closed? Well gee, after I got 60,000 reads, they claimed it was a "technical glitch" -- but I know this to be a lie because a little birdie inside told me what was going on.

Most other people will not be so lucky.


But every time you tell people what they do wrong they can begin to figure out how the abuse detection works.

What if the threshold is at 25 domains, so instead people start opening multiple accounts that run only 24 domains. By telling people what precisely got them booted they can start varying parameters to see what the triggering mechanism is.


Well, you could be sufficiently vague - "Your account has been terminated for domain squatting on domain http://i-squat-here.com would tell him why his account had been terminated, but wouldn't reveal any sensitive information.

And google's contactability for valid issues does still suck, with some exceptions.


No, the problem is really that information disclosure is very tricky. The very fact that you get the notice "you were domain squatting on X" is actually useful for exploits.

Whats the line where Google considers something domain squatting? Lets say its domain squatting if you have less than 5 pages of content, simply create tons of accounts with varying levels of content. What if the signal is "has tons of domains", then run Adsense on tons of domains and see what the threshold is.

(etc etc etc)


You get only one try...


I have friends and family... (really, all you need are a few collaborators.)


That is like saying that the government should not tell us what is illegal because we may exploit the law. The way government deals with this is by allowing courts to make law.

The alternative would be what google does. Say nothing and leave no way of protecting oneself.


The issue is that he was cheating Google by putting their ads on worthless trash sites.


You say this elsewhere, but what rights of his have been violated?


Namely, he had two other websites that had content and he had ads on that were valid uses of adsense. Whether the $761 was divided 60/40 or 10/90 is hard to say. One website should not void your terms for other (fair-use) sites.


The other websites are not separate matters, though. They're all services provided as part of an agreement that he violated. And it looks like he violated that agreement knowingly and flagrantly.


Google saying that it is against their TOS doesn't make the legality of it valid. Yes, he "may" have been in the wrong for THAT site (although google did introduce a service two days later for his situation), but their conditions for refusal of service are horribly "evil." (Do they even refund the adwords users that had to pay?)


Google saying that it is against their TOS doesn't make the legality of it valid.

It's called freedom of contract, which is a bedrock principle of law in any country with a thriving economy.


Is there really freedom when you sign that contract though? Freedom of contract refers to cases where both parties are able to negotiate.

In this particular case this goes under unfair contractual terms, which is the way the law protects the small guy against the big guy who only has one contract and you either accept it or not. It is like a supermarket saying that we will not refund products of a very low quality. Your option is either to not buy anything in any supermarket, cus sure if it was legal they all would want to have that term in their contract, or buy and have no way of recourse.


I'm pretty sure they do refund the money to the advertisers. See the story here: http://www.webupon.com/Money-Making/Google-Adsense-Not-Worth...

"And the worst part about this all is that it states in the AdSense Terms of Service (TOS) that Google has the right to suspend any account without prior notification or explanation, and refund all of the earnings in that account to the respective advertisers."


They could have, yes. Probably should have.

But they're certainly weren't legally obligated to do so.


So, in other words, there was literally nothing on that page that wasn't a TOS violation.

I've been sympathetic to other complaints about Google cutting off service without explanation. But in this case, in Google's shoes, I'd be struggling to give any response much politer than, "FOAD. If possible, DIAF."


The bigger issue for me here is that Google even has an Adsense For Domains program. This program essentially legitimizes domain-squatting by making it extremely profitable. If Google were to withdraw support for domain-squatting (as it does on regular adsense) this parasitic industry would collapse overnight, leading to a measurable increase in the quality of search results for everyone.

Sadly, Google took the evil pill a few years ago.


Domain squatting has been around for a lot longer than google for domains has.


But Google is by far the most profitable way of monetizing websites, because Google is placing ads from legitimate, reputable businesses on websites that are essentially fraudulent.

If Google got out of the business, then squatters would have to use some smaller and less-scrupulous network to monetize the ads. That company would probably give them less money, both because it had fewer advertisers and because it would know they had few other options, so it could charge them higher rates.

As a result, a whole bunch of these domains, which are only very marginally profitable right now (their owners rely on volume) would become unprofitable, and the industry would shrink, leading to a net decrease in domain squatting and a net increase in the density of useful information on the web. If Google cares about information instead of money -- and they claim they do -- then getting out of domain squatting is an obvious choice.


So have many other unsavory industries; that doesn't mean that any one company needs to get into them.

(Edit: I'm not arguing the OP's point that Google legitimizes the industry, simply that being in it is in some ways dubious. In case it wasn't clear.)


What?

I'm saying that google ending their adsense for domains program would not cause the domain squatting industry to collapse.


You're right, it wouldn't. That doesn't mean they have to be in it. It's a choice they're making.


Yeah, I'm not convinced that Google departing this market would lead to it's demise. The void would just fill up with other advertisers chomping at the bit for that cash. That's probably why Google it still doing it.


Saying "somebody else would sucker these chumps if I didn't" is not a moral defense for doing it.

I'm not saying they're not within their rights to do so, I'm just saying it's not something a non-evil company would do.


As an advertiser, you're free to opt out of having your adverts displayed on parked domains.


To me, this case illustrates a scary fact: we entrust large amounts of our data, visibility / reputation (in the form of search results), and revenue (ad sense) to a company that applies no human judgement to individual cases regardless of their importance to the affected parties. This guy may have violated Google's ToS and have deserved to have his account terminated. But that doesn't change the fact that Google (or one of its algorithms) could decide to drop your website from its search results, or delete your GMail account, or cancel your Ad Sense account and keep the balance - all with no appeal to a human being, no opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances, and little recourse.

True, a person may not be a more effective reviewer in general, Google's algorithms may make few mistakes, and we all benefit from the efficiency of a customer service-free operation. Still, it would be nice to think that if something bad happened, you might have a chance to correct it.


I understand where you're coming from, but I think you already covered the counterargument to this; in the aggregate, humans may not be more effective reviewers than a purely computational system. There should always be some sort of recourse as a failsafe, but I don't think that spending more money and time on human customer service is a good idea for Google. I think it's something we'll get used to; I imagine there must have been a similar sort of discomfort when ATMs were introduced, but they're ubiquitous now.

This sort of automation is also very much in tune with Google's philosophy (and really, the history of information retrieval itself--it's gradually steered away towards using much human expert input in problem solving from what I remember) and may be the only viable option for some of Google's services given the kind of scalability they need.


It's hard to read this without hating the guy.

>> "Had it allowed my company to join in the first place, I would have had no reason to create my own billboard using "normal" AdSense since Google would have already taken care of it for me, and no violation would have occurred."

Yeah! Because they had a closed system, they forced you into violating the terms+conditions.

What a shady character. Glad Google won this.


> a number of instances where I was asked to read relevant portions of the terms of service out loud for the judge (designed more than anything to humiliate since it was already readily apparent that I could read),

Doesn't understand what that court stenographer does, I see. (Also, quite willing to impute intent where none lies.)

> Though at that point I should have asked him how often he beat his wife, I was too shocked to think of it.

Should be if he still beat his wife.

> Google has more access to information about people than virtually any company on the planet, yet despite its vast resources, it found it more prudent to fabricate disparaging innuendo about me before a judge. The sole purpose was to damage my credibility.

<Innuendo about Google> "HOW DARE GOOGLE USE WHAT I PERCEIVE TO BE INNUENDO!"

> but I'd like to think that more than being a simply typographical error, the judge was conceding that I had a point. There is no law explicitly stating so, but there was no need for Google to behave in as draconian a manner as it did throughout the entire process of investigating the circumstances surrounding my account termination.

Off the deep end, past innuendo, into the pool of magical thoughts.

> The fact that it conducts smear campaigns against small business owners

The only smear campaign I've seen is the one he's perpetrated against himself (somewhere in the vicinity of "social media elite") and Google.

> Google (presumably, since no one else knew) even notified bloggers and/or The Huffington Post of the appeals court ruling

Yeah, I hate those public court records and those journalistic bloggers. Stupid Google.

As loose with his writing as his morals, this guy. (Muphry's law fans, come and get me.)


When Google's lawyer handed him pages of documents 5 minutes before the case began, why didn't he ask the Judge to defer the case until he had time to review the new material?

Methinks he should have hired a lawyer.

EDIT: Why am I being downmodded? Anyone care to explain?


Well, one of the peculiarities of small claims court in CA (and maybe elsewhere, I don't really know) is that you aren't represented by a lawyer, which is why Google's representative was only a paralegal. Naturally, it's an imperfect system.

However, I share your view that he should have asked for a continuance, and that he could always have talked to a lawyer for general advice before going into a court.


While he harps on finding out Google's reasons, it's clear that he's not remotely surprised by those reasons when he sees them - he already had an argument prepared against the claims of TOS violations. He probably had that argument ready to go in his first court appearance, but didn't have a chance to use it since Google didn't point out his specific violations.

He didn't stall for time because he didn't think he needed to.


Agreed. IANAL and I don't know anything about CA small claims court or what grounds the appeal was on, but I would have asked the judge to not allow that evidence. Usually you can't present evidence on appeal that you could have presented in the original case. If they refused to provide that evidence in the original case, you could argue they waived their right to present it in the future.

It defeats the whole purpose of small claims court if large corporations can just ignore the original case and lose and then appeal and bring in lawyers to put on their real case in front of the appeals court.


Thats where you think wrong, my friend, for Aaron Greenspan is a Lawyer.


I know Edward Greenspan is, but I'm not seeing anything that suggests Aaron is.


I meant this as a joke: every thing i've ever read about him is something litigious.


"Don't be assholes"

Try not putting misleading advertising on parked domains. Talk about hypocrisy.


Ironically, I just got the following message from Google:

--/ snip /--

Hello,

It has come to our attention that invalid clicks or impressions have been generated on your Google ads, posing a financial risk to our AdWords advertisers. Please note that any activity that may artificially inflate an advertiser's costs or a publisher's earnings is strictly prohibited by our program policies.

We understand that you may want more information about the activity we detected. However, because we have a need to protect our proprietary detection systems, we're unable to provide our publishers with any details about their account activity, including any web pages or users that may have been involved. Thank you for your understanding.

--/ snip /--

We run a fairly popular site that I'm not going to mention and we have a few AdSense banners in our forum. We aren't clicking on our own ads or doing anything else sneaky. So what are supposed to do about this? We can't change anything because we aren't doing anything. So next month will Google just cut us off? Frustrating to say the least.


It occurs to me that this creates an incentive for black hat hackery: you are my competitor, so I arrange (at arm's length) to artificially inflate your traffic, make you anathema to Google (perhaps by using gratuitous and obvious SEO aimed at your domain), and then exploit your declining revenue/search placement to improve my own market share.


I used to think Google just providing horrible customer disservice by canceling accounts without explanation, but now I at least have some insight on the situation. Once you provide specific reasons, it invites bargaining and hair-splitting of the worst sort.


google doesn't actively go around trying to screw people over. they have engineers that look for certain violations of terms, and it looks like his case fell under one of those violations.


Although somewhat sympathetic and agreeing that Google really ought to consider having a proper customer service policy (instead of just making PhD types do some as part of their training), I think the Mr Greenspan is a fool for rushing into print before receiving and cashing the check.

Indeed, I find myself wondering if a similar degree of over-confidence is the root cause of his other negative experiences. His HuffPo articles seem united by a certain 'screwed again' theme. You would think a graduate of Harvard with extensive experience of legal conflict would know that until the check clears or the date passes, an appeal is always a possibility.


Huh? If he'd waited until everything settled, he'd have only one story -- and it'd be a less-interesting story about fighting "the man" and losing.

By reporting his initial victory, he gets two interesting stories out of his experience. The ultimate court outcome is irrelevant; the value is the notoriety from the experience.


By that logic, google's decision to appeal the case has done him an enormous favor, giving him double the material.

However, if you read carefully you'll see that google called him up to say they were going to send a check, and then he went into print with his story before they did so. If he had waited until the check cleared and then wrote 'how I sued google and won', he'd have the moral victory, the publicity and the money, because paying out money constitutes an acceptance of the court's judgement and abrogates the right to appeal.


Google has done him a massive favor, both by flubbing the initial defense and by appealing. Just look at the plug for his new service at the bottom of his latest story.

Even with the call, I wouldn't be certain that he was on the verge of getting a check, if he'd just stayed silent. The paralegal may have been going through perfunctory steps before an inevitable review-and-decision-to-appeal. (She may have been stalling or fishing for information to assist further investigation -- didn't Google already have his Tax ID from the AdSense program? Maybe the Tax ID was what legal needed to pull up the AdSense enforcement history.)

The precedent was always important to Google -- they don't want every minor AdSense rule-bender like Greenspan to sue them in small claims. And every AdSense publisher by definition has a website, so is a potential source of blog-blowback to be taken seriously when their tiny win inspires others.

If in fact he was just days from getting a check, there should be a parade of other small-claims winners against Google who, after cashing their checks, could blog freely in the glory of their irrevocable victory. (His experience shouldn't be that unique.)

Where are their blog entries?


The thing I don't understand is why they don't pay what they owe and then close the account down. If Google, Paypal, etc did that there wouldn't be nearly as much outrage.


It's not even precedence per-se.

Ad networks are abusable products: there's tons of ways someone could be making use of the service in a fraudulent fashion.

You can't know someone's fraudulently using the service until they actually fraudulently use the service, at which point by design the service will appear to "owe" them money; thus, anytime you're shutting someone down who's making fraudulent use of the service you're going to appear to owe them money right before you shut it off.

Which is why they're not going to pay this guy: as far as they're concerned he defrauded their customers -- publishers -- out of some $700, which is how his account got into a state where it looked to him like he was "owed" some $700; there's not really a reason to pay him, though, for obvious reasons, which is why they're not going to pay him.


I don't understand is why they don't pay what they owe

If there was a violation of the terms of service, they don't owe anything.


Precedence.

If they don't feel that they are doing anything wrong, they won't pay up, because otherwise they'll have to adjust the way they do business.


So, a clown tries to make a circus out of a small claim case and gets his ass handed in a silver plate by shark lawyers?

Learn to have your mouth shut and accept your small victory, instead of trying to stir a happy-suing-fuck-fest.

He got what he deserved.


and a lot of publicity, perhaps worth much more than some 700 dollars.


This is disgusting--plain and simple. Not only is this an obvious abuse of the judicial system, but it is a valuable insight into the real attitude of Google HQ. I'm taking my personal data elsewhere.

Its been bung, Google.

EDIT: I understand the implications for a domain-squatting precedent here, but the tactics used by Google are still inexcusable. As a company as influential and powerful as they are, they have an unwritten obligation to treat their customers with respect. What the author of this post did was wrong (note: I am not the author, blhack's reply is not directed towards me). With all of the data Google has at its disposal, however, how difficult is it to give the man a straight answer when he asks for it? Our society is in a constant battle against corporate greed and the evil that it brings. The last thing we need is Google leading the way with this despicable behavior (selling term papers? really??).


Have you read the backstory for this?

I know the guy that did this posts here. So this is to him: I am calling you out.

What you did was wrong. As a geek you should know this. People that squat on domains hoping that people typo a URL and land on your page covered in ads is a cancer on the DNS.

NOT ONLY is it a cancer on the DNS, it steals money from people who are legitimately trying to promote their own products.

I have a little social news website that my friends and I post on. Yeah it is tiny, yeah it is worthless, yeah it is probably a complete and total mess of code that is wide open to any number of vulnerabilites, but you know what? It's my baby.

I'm broke. I'll admit that. I don't make a lot of money. But ONCE, I decided to splurge a little bit on some google ads. Yeah, it was $50, yeah it was stupid and pointless and I'm not going to recoup it, but this is my hobby and I think it's fun.

I cannot even imagine how absolutely blindingly infuriated (not to mention heartbroken) I would have been if I would have found out that this small ammount of money that I decided to "invest" in my little project had been squandered on some asshole leeching money from people with a landing page.

Those clicks are expensive. That $700 or whatever you earned came from people like ME.

You violated their terms of service and you deserved everything that you got as a result of it.

I know we're supposed to be civil here, but honestly man, fuck you. What you did was very barely (if at all) above a pyramid scheme.


Yes, domain squatting sucks and the writer should follow google's TOS. Further, I don't disagree that he should have lost this case. Now just because he didn't have content on the site doesn't mean that he was squatting - he may have had future plans for the domain. But I agree the advertisers should not be charged for ads that were not presented as they should have been.

That said, I think a ban from adsense for a single infraction without a means for appeal or feedback is a scary prospect for legitimate users who may make a small mistake from time to time. This sequence of events would make me think twice about building a business based on this model.


"Now just because he didn't have content on the site doesn't mean that he was squatting - he may have had future plans for the domain."

Oh please. That's just too easy. "Hey, I'm doing something harmful, pointless, illegal and unsavory... but I have plans to do something less shitty some day! Give me a free pass. What can I get away with today?..."


I clearly missed something - is it really that "harmful, pointless, illegal and unsavory" to have a domain that's not in use showing an ad? Yes, it's a misuse of adwords, but he could have used a more appropriate ad service. I doubt he's a squatter since 1. it sounds like he's only doing this on one domain and 2. the domain was related to his company name and wasn't some other company's name (correct me if I'm wrong here) or a misspelling. In the article, he says his company is "think" and the link was related to that. To me, this is not squatting.


Just curious, but don't you think you should accept the risk wrt ROI on CPC ad campaigns? Yes, it might not convert. It might not even be seen by anybody remotely interested in your product. But that's the nature of it. And the nature of business. Isn't it?


Meh. I have no sympathy. You've got no money to pay for an attractive domain name so you think I should just give you mine and I'm a bad guy because I'm making a few bucks waiting for a buyer who's got his shit together? Sorry, no. Sucks to be you.


You fail reading comprehension forever. The complaints that you mistakenly think you addressed are:

1. Domain squatters who sit on slightly misspelled domain names (e.g. ycobinator.com, gooogle.com, etc.) and hope someone will accidentally see their ads are parasites on the DNS.

2. This practice lowers the return on investment for people who are trying to advertise something. Micro-advertising keeps a lot of web sites afloat and helps make the web's economy more fluid, so that small businesses without brand name recognition can level the playing field a little. Domain squatters who siphon off ad money by putting ads on crappy parked domain pages that people go to by mistake and leave immediately are unworthy leeches sucking the blood from the internet. They harm others and contribute nothing of value.

You seem to be exclusively defending the kind of domain squatting where you register some attractive domain name like "fishandchips.com" and leave it fallow until someone buys it from you. That does not address anything that blhack said.


"Don't be assholes"?


Link to the HN discussion on the original story: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=505255

Also, you might feel less sorry for Aaron Greenspan when you find out that he's the one who sued facebook for trademark infringement.


Although you raise some valid questions, a legal staffer's 'low blow' in a court is not commensurate with the policy of the company. Our adversarial court system unfortunately rewards such tactics, and it's not like there was a board meeting in Mountain View to establish the paralegal's courtroom decision tree.




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