A former Google employee alleges that the tech giant systematically began an Adsense account color coding program in 2009 to take earnings from web publishers and the attention has turned up the heat on the company. Google characterizes the web blast as “complete fiction.” If the allegations are untrue, the fiction is certainly quite detailed. The whistleblower former employee recounts meetings in which the company rolled out a comprehensive system to classify Adsense accounts into various action categories for withholding advertising earnings in order to protect the corporation’s bottom line.
Adsense is an advertising system in which website publishers of all sizes join in order to monetize their websites. The web publishers join Adsense and then embed advertising code into the website pages. Google then sells the ad space on the site. Typically, the ads run on the sites are customized to fit the type of products for which the site viewers would be most interested. The publishers earn money from the ads based on either page impressions or clicks on the ads. Publishers are paid monthly based on ad revenue once a threshold amount of $100 is earned.
The specific allegations are that beginning in 2009 the company began flagging accounts for withholding payment once a publisher reached the point that a $5,000 payment was imminent. The whistleblower alleges that the purported withholding system grouped accounts into red, yellow, blue and green categorizes based on the level of urgency for withholding the funds. The red group received the most attention and the green group, allegedly composed of those with important contacts with Google or those who might make the most noise about the action, was exempt from withholding. Now that the allegations of Google’s alleged Adsense color coding theft are public, attention to the matter will heat up substantially. If true, the company received substantial revenues from advertisers for placing ads and failed to pay the commissions due the publishers of the sites which actually ran the ads.
Google’s Adsense program contains policies which web publishers must follow in order to remain in the program. For instance, clicking on ads run on your own website is prohibited. Web publishers are subject to payments being withheld based on violation of Adsense policies. Google stated that funds withheld from web publishers for more than 60 days are returned to the advertisers; therefore, the basis for the allegations make no sense. The company contends that no monetary basis for withholding can exist because ad revenues are refunded to the groups placing the ads.
The whistleblower also alleges that the company falsified data from its Google Analytics service to show less website traffic than actually occurred. In Analytics, a web publisher is able to view how many hits or views a site receives. The former employee states that the company artificially reduced web traffic data. If true, a web publisher would be less likely to complain about a lack of earnings because of deflated traffic reflected on Analytics.
The Google Adsense theft allegations based on color coding publisher accounts are certainly explosive and the company will need to provide a detailed response to contain the problem before the publicity heats up further. The company is currently investigating to determine the source of the leak. Regardless of the source, the detailed nature of the allegations makes a thorough response by Google a necessity.
By William Costolo