I’ve written before about how Google is a dubious ally in the fight against spam. Their services are used to host, promote and monetize spam content, including content scraped from legitimate sites.historians
In recent months and years, Google has made some attempt to push back at spam. They’ve worked to remove spam results from their search results, fought back against Blogspot spam and have shuttered some Adsense accounts. But despite these efforts, Google remains one of the largest hosts, financiers and promoters of spam on the Web.
It is easy to attribute these issues to the overwhelming nature of spam, to say that there is little Google can do when an rookie spam blogger can create tens of thousands of spam blogs at the click of a mouse. However, a closer look at Google’s practices shows a culture favorable to spam. For proof of this, we just need to dig deeper into a recent blog posting claiming that Google plans to stop domain tasting, a practice used by spammers to test out a domain before buying it.
Though the rumor itself is positive, when one looks at Google’s current practices, and the practices that will continue, one sees that Google violates their own rules regarding spam and actually goes out of its way to enable spammers.
Domain tasting is basically a trial period for domain names. By tasting a domain, you register for a short period, under five days, see if it works out and then release it at no cost if it doesn’t.
This was originally designed to prevent legitimate customers from being held hostage by typos or other honest mistakes when registering a domain. However, it is more commonly used by spammers and professional domain speculators to register a domain for free, and see if its traffic is worthwhile, all without any risk to them.
However, monetizing domains that are less than a week old can be a great challenge. Though you could set up a spam blog and simply take it down if you decide not to keep the domain, that might not be very time effective, even with automated scripts.
Fortunately for those spammers, Google has a domain parking service that not only makes it easy to park your domain, but earn money against ads sold on it, even if you have no content on your site.
For spammers, this is a dream come true and represents a chance to make a profit without taking any financial risk.
The Ethical Problem
The idea behind Google Domain Parking is fairly simple. Rather than parking your new domain in the traditional manner, by having it point to a generic “domain registered” page, you point it to Google. Google, in turn, creates a temporary site comprised of nothing but ads for keywords related to your domain name, ads both Google and yourself profit from.
The pages, a sample of which is pictured to the right, look and act very similar to spam content. Though there is no scraped material on the page, there is also no content at all.
The problem with this is simple. If you were to create this kind of site with your regular Adsense code, Google would call it a “Made For Adsense” site and likely terminate your account. However, if you do it through their domain parking program, not only is it legal, but you can do it on domains that you haven’t paid for and have no plans to.
This gives spammers the ability to receive payment from free domains with free hosting and free monetization. It is a guaranteed profit. Further, if the domain performs well, it can be kept and then turned into a more long-term project. This often includes converting it into a spam blog or selling it at auction.
Worst of all, the domains parked by Google do not contain any clear indication that they are parked domains nor that Google is involved. The traditional “Ads by Google” icons are removed around all of the blocks and only a mention of “Sponsored Links” indicates that the content contains nothing but advertisements.
In short, with this service, Google goes well beyond the mere hosting and monetizing of junk content, and steps into the creation of it.
What the Rumors Mean
If the rumors linked above are true and Google is looking at the possibility of no longer allowing users to monetize domains within the free grace period, that would certainly be a huge step forward.
Users would have to actually pay for the domains they park with Google and that would prevent spammers from registering and parking thousands of domains at a time. Even with heavy discounts and automated tools, the process would be too expensive.
However, this doesn’t mean that Google is getting out of the junk content business, just that they will not allow you to use it for free. As long as you pay for your domain, you can still have a free “Made For Adsense” site without violating any of Google’s terms of service.
Though this might hurt domain tasters, it will not impact domain those that engage in other questionable practices such as snatching up recently-expired domains, registering typos of popular names as well as other domain extensions. Though domain tasting is probably the worst practice of its kind, it is not the only evil that Google’s service can be exploited for and certainly not the only underhanded practice that can be tied to spam.
Google’s motto is supposed to be “Don’t Be Evil”. With other aspects of the spam issue, one could argue that Google was not deliberately being evil, but was instead a target for evil doers. However, in this case, it is Google itself that is taking the action, Google itself that is posting the junk content and Google itself is just now, after several years, looking to lock down the service so that it is not as vulnerable to spammers.
Though I doubt Google’s decision, should it come to fruition, will actually stop domain tasting because other companies will rush to fill the void, it is not acceptable that Google, considered by many to be the most powerful company on the Web, is or ever was a partner in what can only be called an underhanded practice.
However, this practice has largely gone unnoticed by general public. Though many of us have seen the pages, few have connected them with Google due to the lack of clear identifying information, the service itself is only a small portion of its Adsense offerings and finding a link to it is very difficult. By in large, only those who would want to use it seem to know about it.
This has kept the public silent on the issue, even though it has been going on for at least a few years.
Hopefully though, the rumors will be true and Google will step up on this issue. Though I would strongly prefer Google to not be in the junk content business, at least distancing themselves from domain tasters would get them away from the worst of the spammers.
But it is still sad and frustrating to find that the highest hopes I have for Google is that they will be less evil than they were before.