Last month, someone claiming to be a Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) employee posted a string of anonymous accusations on pastebin, alleging that the company had been systematically ripping off AdSense publishers since 2009 by arbitrarily banning their accounts just before large payouts (an allegation that Google denies, of course). Now the first lawsuit to follow up on these allegations has been filed in California by Repost.us owner Free Range Content, reports Seth Rosenblatt at CNET.
Free Range Content says it was banned after ad income spiked $40,000
According to the lawsuit, Free Range Content saw that its income from AdSense jumped $40,000 in February this year, and that it had reported the change to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and set up a March 6 meeting to discuss the matter with an AdSense rep, but that its account was banned shortly before the meeting and that Google broke off contact after that without ever making the final payment.
“Google’s actions constitute breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law,” said the lawsuit filing. Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which filed on behalf of Free Range Content, wants the lawsuit to get class action status so that other account holders who were banned without explanation can also recover the final payment owed to them.
Google constantly on guard against AdSense click fraud
It might sound strange that Free Range Content would want to discuss a surge in earnings, but a sudden windfall in online advertising is usually a sign that someone is abusing the system. If Free Range Content paid a network to click on Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Ads on their sites, it would be able to increase earnings without actually increasing traffic. Since Google is constantly on the lookout for such tactics, a competitor could pay a network to do the same thing in an attempt to trigger a ban. Free Range Content likely scheduled the meeting because it didn’t want to be accused of gaming AdSense, and Google will probably say that it was banned for violating terms of service.
Aside from being anonymous, the allegations posted on pastebin lacked the kind of detail that you might expect from an insider whistleblower such as specific names of people at Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) responsible for these policies, instead of simply giving generic titles. But taking advantage of Google is a black hat cottage industry, if everyone with an AdSense ban is able to join the suit and claim one last payment Google will be forced to take the matter seriously.