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Yet Another Publisher Sues Google For Withholding AdSense Earnings
Super Cray says that after repeated assurances by Google AdSense reps that the site was in compliance, it was denied over $500,000 in advertising earnings.
Super Cray, New York-based online publisher of the website www.supercraycray.com, has filed suit against Google over its AdSense program. In an argument that is becoming increasingly familiar, Super Cray claims that Google suspended the publisher’s AdSense account the day it was to receive a large payout in ad share fees.
Super Cray claims that after receiving several written assurances from Google that its AdSense ads were set up and running in compliance with the program, it invested more than $300,000 in content promotion, largely on Facebook, to drive traffic to the site.
The suit, filed in Northern California District Court, states that Super Cray had accrued $535,000 in AdSense earnings and was due to be paid on October 21, 2014. Google allegedly suspended the account because the site’s advertising layout “encouraged accidental clicks.”
Super Cray specializes in so-called click bait-style headlines and slideshows. Example articles listed in the suit include “7 Startups You Didn’t Know Were Funded By A-List Celebrities” and “Where Ridiculous Meets Entertainment.”
On September 29, 2014, Dennis Gayev, the site’s co-founder participated in a Google Chat with an AdSense rep (“Ryan J) in which he sought to ensure that the click-through rates they were seeing on the ads were in normal range and not triggered by “accidental clicks, or what not.” The rep assures him the “CTR you are seeing is within the normal range.” An excerpt from that chat is included in the suit:
Denis: We reported our selves previously in the month asking to verify if our site is fully complaint (sic) with all TOS [Terms of Service]. We never received a response, does that normally mean that it was checked and no issues were found?
Ryan J: Correct, warnings are resolved once you mark them as such. If there is a future issue the policy team will get back to you.
Denis: Honestly, our biggest concern was our CTR on our ads. We wanted to confirm if it was inline with whats normal. We wanted to double check that the CTR was not in anyway a result of accidental clicks, or what not. Is that something that’s checked periodically when a site scales quickly? Or is that something checked in the 2 week period?
Ryan J: We do validate all clicks and impressions and are monitoring it constantly. The CTR you are seeing is within the normal range. I’m also not seeing any concerns are you site, ex. implementation that could cause a high amount of accidental clicks.
On October 1, 2014, Super Cray again reached out to Google and got confirmation by Ryan J that it was set to receive a payout of $197,045.69 on the 21st.
That same day Super Cray co-founder Kirill Fuchs emailed a Google AdSense representative, “Roy,” about concern over high CTRs on two ad units and to ask for verification that the “ad placement is not generating invalid activity such as accidental clicks”.
Roy responded that he had “found correct implementations for both 336×280 (desktop), and 300×250 (mobile). We definitely appreciate your honesty and your efforts to keep your account in good standing.”
Again, on October 6, 2014, another AdSense representative twice recommended they keep their current ad implementation.
It was after this series of assurances that Super Cray spent the $300,000 to promote its content and by the 21st had racked up $535,000 in AdSense earnings. Then they received notice that the account was suspended and all earnings were being revoked.
In a now familiar refrain from publishers in these situations, Super Cray says it didn’t get any more feedback from Google despite repeated attempts to point out that Google had “expressly validated” its ad layout.
The suit brings up last year’s accusations by an anonymous person claiming to be an ex-Googler. That person claimed it was common practice to suspend big-earning accounts just before they were to get their payouts. These claims have been roundly discredited, however, in large part because Google doesn’t benefit financially by refunding advertisers. In rebuttal, the Super Cray suit suggests that suspending accounts benefits Google’s relationships with advertisers:
“when Google confiscates the funds from the publisher, and credits them back to the advertiser, it effectively (and substantially) lowers that advertiser’s cost of advertising, at the publisher’s, not Google’s expense. That is, the advertiser still received the click from the person who was browsing the publisher’s site, but did not have to pay for it. Through this process, Google earns substantial goodwill from its advertiser customer base, and obtains a competitive advantage vis-àvis its competitors in the online advertising business who do not confiscate their publishers’ accrued earnings and kick them back to the advertiser.”
Google has adamantly denied any wrong doing in these cases and reiterates that it can’t go into detail with publishers on why their accounts are suspended in order to keep further fraud attempts at bay. But it’s clear that these kinds of claims aren’t going away.
The suit mentions PubShare, which also claims to have had its account terminated for encouraging accidental clicks after receiving positive feedback from Google AdSense reps. PubShare, a site not unlike Super Cray that publishes humorous viral images, says it is out nearly $1 million in ad revenue.
Google tried to have the PubShare case dismissed, but a judge has ruled to let it go forward. In May, lawyers filed a class action suit on behalf of publishers claiming to have had their accounts unlawfully suspended and advertising earnings revoked.
Super Cray is seeking full restitution of ad earnings.