Google’s Shell Games

Google's Shell Games ImageAnyone who is a regular reader to this site knows that, in order to get Adsense removed from a scraper or plagiarist’s page, you are required to file a DMCA notice.

Adsense has its own DMCA policy and follows it very strictly. Though results can be obtained through that means, few bloggers actually use it.

Not only is the process unnecessarily complicated and time consuming, but a great deal of confusion is being spread about the nature of their policy.

However, the cause of the misunderstandings are very easy spot. If you follow Google’s abuse process, the confusion is very apparent as Google itself says never mentions its DMCA process when filing a complaint. Instead, it intentionally allows visitors to finish the entire process, certain the matter is in good hands, before letting them know the truth hours or days later.

It isn’t that these bloggers didn’t do their research, just that they were misled by a company who’s motto is supposed to be “Don’t Be Evil”.

Adsense Abuse 101

In theory, reporting Adsense violations is as simple as a few clicks of the mouse.

When you see a site breaking any of Adsene’s rules, you are supposed to first click their “Ads By Google” link at the top or bottom of one of the ad blocks. You are then taken to a page that tries and sells you space on the site or get you to sign your own site up.

However, at the bottom there is a link reads “Send Google your thoughts on the site or the ads you just saw”. If you click that link, a form appears below asking you what you thought of the ads. Below that is a link to report a violation. Click that link and a subform appears asking you to choice between a violation with the ads or the site itself.

If you choose the Web site, you get a question with the options below:

Google's Shell Games Image

The third option reads “The site is hosting/distributing my copyrighted content” (emphasis in original) and seems to be perfect for reporting scrapers and spammers. If you hit submit from there, you get a thank you page and a promise to look into the matter.

Then nothing happens.

If you provided your email address, which is entirely optional in the form, you get an email some time later telling you that Google can not process your complaint without a DMCA notice. It then links to the Adsense DMCA policy (found above) and offers little else.

In the meantime you’ve lost hours, possibly days worth of time waiting for a response from Google and now have to start all over again.

Frustrating, yes, but entirely avoidable.

A Double Standard

Even if we discard the facts that Adsense is not protected under the DMCA and that Google’s DMCA policy is likely illegal in and of itself, there are several problems with this method of handling things.

The biggest is that Google knows that they can not and will not act on such complaints without a proper DMCA notice. They wrote the policy and they stand by it, for better or worse. Yet they keep that option available, even though it only leads to confusion.

Of course, the presence of that option would not be so bad if Google would actually notify submitters of the requirement to file the DMCA before they left the page.

Strangely, Google actually does exactly this one of their other sites, YouTube. If you use the “Flag” feature at YouTube to report a video for copyright infringement.

Google's Shell Games Image

You are then given an error message directly you to their help center, which provides instructions for properly reporting the clip.

Google's Shell Games Image

It is not a perfect system, but it prevents Webmasters from wasting days waiting for a response when one simply isn’t coming.

Bad Behavior

Questions about why Google does this is entirely up for debate. The most obvious reason, however, is that Google has much less motivation to be cooperative with Adsense than YouTube. Adsense is Google’s main money maker, is not technically protected under the DMCA and is not the subject of a billion dollar lawsuit.

But no matter what the reason is, this is just another artificial hurdle to Google’s already obstructionist DMCA policy. Google already mandates you send a physical signature, though the law clearly states that it is not necessary, refuses to accept email notices and often takes weeks to respond to a perfectly legitimate notice filed using their own policy.

Google could probably fix this problem within the space of a few hours but, for whatever reason, it has not been a priority for them. Instead, there are countless confused bloggers who believe that Google simply doesn’t respond to complaints about scraping doesn’t care.

The result is not only a damaged reputation for Google, but that thousands of spam blogs continue to thrive because content owners were thwarted in reporting the problem. They either never got the email requesting the DMCA notice, likely because they didn’t fill out their email as it was optional, or had simply moved on in the days that had passed.

The side effect of that is, of course, that Google gets to keep making money on the spam blogs. Considering they provide the hosting, promotion and revenue stream with their Blogspot, search and Adsense products respectively, Google seems to be a spammer’s best friend. Sadly, this “do the absolute minimum” policy when dealing with scraping seems to be a mere extension of that.

Even worse, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better in the near future.

Conclusions

Google is a company like any other, with responsibilities to share holders and employees. The bottom line for a corporation is, quite simply, the bottom line. Money doesn’t have an ethical or political stance and companies know that.

We should not expect companies like Google go act quickly on something that is not in their best interest. Instead, we should make it in their best interest to act by voting with our dollars. Doing anything else will have no effect.

The quicker we realize that, the quicker we can start to see some real change from Google in these and other areas.

Even though no company is perfect, a company should at least attempt to live up to is motto. Otherwise, it should expect its customers to demand better and then seek it out elsewhere.

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