Google – where “Free” becomes awful costly

This note was written in response (in part) to the following article, as passed along by Frank Stallone:
http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/11/columns/guest/winter/index.htm

 Summary: The author of that page relied on Google’s AdSense program and custom YouTube videos for revenue, and at some point “violated terms” with Google AdSense and was summarily booted off, with no recourse or understanding of the “violation.”

The problem lies in the details… and many of the details are hidden away. Google has three levels of rules: those in the contract (the standard “fine print”); those located in FAQ documents; and those enforced only through opaque algorithms. It’s this last group which causes the most headaches.

You can go along, playing by all the published rules (contract and FAQs) and one day, suddenly, you’re locked out and nothing works – and there’s no explanation, other than a terse “This account is suspended due to a Terms of Service violation.”

For the above-captioned individual, he was reliant upon Google’s AdSense program for revenue. That may work, IF you’re willing to play by the unrevealed rules – which to my mind means – you only run AdSense, or perhaps AdSense with Amazon, on any site. Period. Mr. Winter tried to get cute (subscriptions, local ad syndication and affiliations, cross-feeds) and found out the downside of playing with Google. They “fired” him.

I’m not going to analyse specifics with AdSense. It’s not something I have much dealings with – I rarely see the need to run syndicated advertising on a website. None of my sites nor any site I maintain has syndicated advertising.


The main issue I think is the hidden ToS (terms of service), and the selective enforcement thereof by Google.

A lot of people (individuals, schools, corporations, nonprofits, etc) have relationships with Google. A lot rely on Google services for critical communications and even business-critical services.

If the relationship with Google is a paid one – you’re paying them a fee for service – then this is fine. Where it is problematical is when it’s “Free.”

The user has very limited control over “free” applications, and little or no recourse if something goes wrong.

One of the websites I support is http://www.njchurchscape.com/

NJChurchscape has been hosted on my server since the site’s inception and is the busiest site on the server. A couple of years ago, in an attempt to broaden research methods and experiment with public collaboration tools, a subordinate “wiki-style” site was launched via the Google Sites offering:

http://sites.google.com/site/cumberlandchurchscape/

and if you follow the link you’ll see it’s been cut off – for some sort of ToS violation, the details of which have not been revealed. Google won’t answer questions regarding this – but I don’t see how a discussion of old churches in Cumberland County NJ causes a ToS violation. However this was done using the “free” version of Sites, and thus there is no recourse, no one to call or talk to or blame. It’s all faceless.

I personally use a handful of GoogleApps sites, all associated with domain names, and should any of these end up being deemed as “critical” for line-of-business, I will pay the $50/user/year fee.  For now, these are experimental sites.

I know a few people who read this (at least I hope read this) are running their primary business applications on the “free” Google services. I hope “free” turns out well for them.

My bottom line: Google should not be relied on as a source of income, unless you’re an employee of the company. Google should not be relied on as a provider of any service, unless paid for.

Google is NOT your “friend.” EVER.

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One thought on “Google – where “Free” becomes awful costly”

  1. What I have learned most from this whole scenario is that it is always better to err on the side of loosing whatever free service you have with Google at all times; if there is something you can not work without on a free Google service, ask yourself, “If this service were to disappear tomorrow, what would I need?” and back whatever that is up. Google is not your friend when it comes to free services, and if you pay I presume you’ll get their attention a little more reasonably but one cannot be too sure of that either.

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