When Google first burst onto the tech scene back in the late 90s, they boasted about and prided themselves on their unofficial slogan “Don’t be evil”. The company has obviously come a long way since those heady days of the first Internet boom, and as they have quickly grown into one of the largest corporations on the planet they have also well and truly tossed that earlier, positive ideology into the waste basket of history.
This recent article about a class action law suit filed on behalf of over 10,000 Silicon Valley tech employees who were cheated out of an estimated $9 billion by both Google and Apple, was a timely reminder that while my own story of how Google have treated me with complete disdain may be that of just one individual, I am certainly not alone.
So, to my story…
As many/some of you know, I run a small web design & development business, Zava Design. While the majority of my work comes from repeat business and word of mouth, from time to time I used to run small Adwords campaigns when work was a little quiet. I say “used to” as in mid 2012, when logging into my Google Adwords account, the following message appeared highlighted in bright red at the top of the screen: “Your account is suspended We’ve had to suspend your AdWords account because it contains major or repeated violations of our advertising policies.”
This was followed by a “Learn more” link which linked through to their general information page about suspended accounts, but with no further information about what policy I personally had violated. So after getting over my obvious initial shock at the situation, I had a good read through all their fine print to see if there was anything I could identify that had caused this issue.
“When you violate these policies, we’ll generally email you with a warning and a chance to fix the problem. If you repeatedly violate our policies, however, we may suspend your AdWords accounts”.
I had never received an email from Google about any previous violation, so I couldn’t be accused of “repeated” violations, so that seemed to rule this issue out.
“And if you violate our policies in a very big way, we may suspend your accounts right away, without prior notification, to help protect our users”.
I didn’t think I was putting Google’s users “at risk” by advertising my web design company, so I ruled that out.
And I had a credit balance in my Adwords banking account, so that part of their policies didn’t seem to apply. (Indeed, almost two years later and they still have my money in that account, which I cannot access to withdraw at all… doesn’t sound much like “Do no evil” so far, does it?)
So after carefully reading their generic overview of why they would suspend someone’s Adwords account and being no closer to an answer to why they had suspended my account, I followed their communication procedure and filled in the relevant contact form asking for some further information to help identify what exactly I had done wrong.
A few days later I received a blatantly obvious form email, basically directing me to their policy pages again. Nothing about my actual account and what I had done wrong. So I tried again. Same result. I tried a third time, this time also emailing some random Google contact email addresses I had found from (ironically) Googling for them. Finally this elicited a personal response from someone deep in the bowls of Google HQ, going by the name of Dennis James.
But the only problem with my personally written message from Dennis James was that he was accusing me of linking to domains I had never heard of in my Adwords ads. This can be checked quite easily, all previous ads are archived and available to be viewed for all time. So I checked them carefully just to be doubly, triply sure I hadn’t made a mistake somewhere, but couldn’t find anything remotely related to the domains he was accusing me of linking to.
In addition to these two domains I had never heard of, Dennis James also accused zavadesign.com of containing “Misleading/Inaccurate Claims”. Now, I know that what is good or bad design is a highly subjective area, but while I make no claims of being a great designer, I certainly do regard the services I have provided to my clients over a number of years to be highly professional and of good quality. As you would expect from someone with 15 years experience in the industry.
So I replied to Mr James, pointing out the erroneous URLs he had accused me of linking to, and taking issue with his accusations directed towards my business website. From this point on, all I received were obvious cut and pasted responses, repeatedly referring and pointing me to Google’s “policies” without addressing the inaccuracy of his initial email. And then finally after a couple more emails, no more responses.
Doe anyone think this would happen if I was spending thousands each month on Adwords? Of course not. And as you can see from this article in the SMH from a couple of years ago, I’m not the first person to run into this issue with Google. And I’m sure I’m not the last.
Unfortunately unlike the eventually fortunate businessman in the above article, when I lodged a complaint to NSW Fair Trading they informed me that they could not help me, and my best option was to lodge a complaint with the Small Claims Court. A little difficult for someone living overseas, though still running my Australian registered business and paying tax in Australia. So much for consumer protection agencies, seems to rely on someone’s mood for the day on whether they will help you out or not.
So end result? I have a seemingly permanently suspended Good Adwords account, and am no closer to knowing why exactly it was suspended, nor of what I need to do to have it unsuspended. Like I said, do you think this would be the situation if I was a customer worth tens of thousands of dollars to them monthly? Of course not.
Google do indeed do much evil nowadays – to defenceless small business clients anyway. Money has definitely superseded ethics within the corporate monolith they are today.