updated 11:07 pm EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
Hagens Berman, consumer rights law firm, files class action
Claims that Google orchestrated events to prevent paying AdSense earnings by shuttering accounts just before payouts were due have escalated into a class-action lawsuit. Hagens Berman, a consumer rights law firm, today filed a national class-action lawsuit against Google, claiming that the search engine is in violation of contracts with users and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law.
Google AdSense allows publishers in the Google Network of content sites to serve automatic text, image, video, or interactive media advertisements that are targeted to site content and audience. These advertisements are administered, sorted, and maintained by Google, and they can generate revenue on either a per-click or per-impression basis. The program has been running since 2003 in one form or another.
Participants in AdSense are paid after an account reaches $100 in collected earnings.
The leaker claims that a Google policy of shutting down accounts before they reach $100 and a payout is made is in place, with Google pocketing the money. The author of the anonymous Pastebin tirade against AdSense claims "I have communications. I have documents, I have files, I have lists, and I have names. I have all of it," referring to proof that Google would close AdSense accounts intentionally just before payout. "The information and evidence I have is extensive and quite detailed, it will also paint a very different picture of what Google is really like to the public."
The allegations appear to center around Google's willingness to accept ads from "sleazy" firms, such as illegal pharmaceutical firms, scam ware and malware distributors, and other fly-by-night operations. The ads run, critics say, but Google often then shuts down the account for being disreputable and keeps the money collected to that point.
Google categorically denied the claims of malfeasance by AdSense personnel. It said that "this description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. The color-coding and 'extreme quality control' programs the author describes don't exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users."
The complaint claims that the contracts and terms of service Google requires web publishers to sign are one-sided, giving Google free reign to embark on what the suit claims are actions devoid of good faith or fair dealing. The lawsuit seeks damages for all US Google AdSense publishers whose AdSense account was disabled or terminated, and whose last AdSense program payment was withheld permanently by Google.
"This wrongful practice has sparked numerous bitter complaints from website owners across the web, with some reporting losses reaching thousands of dollars a pop," said Steve Berman, attorney representing the class. "What we believe to be true from our research is that Google's practice is likely hurting thousands of website owners and operators who feel they have no way to fight a giant company like Google."