Hizook.com on Frontpage of Slashdot, Reddit, Digg, Engadget, Hacker News. Result: Google Disables AdSense Account

Hizook's administrators have opted to publish this unusual article -- reader be warned, it is uncharacteristic of the site and its administrators for two reasons: (1) it is not about robotics and (2) it is spiteful, catty, and choleric

Google Being Evil Hizook.com has received an amazing flurry of activity in the last 10 days.  We made it to the front page of Slashdot (twice!),  Reddit (twice!), Engadget, Makezine, Hacker News (etc, etc) -- amassing well over 100,000 pageviews!  During the height of the activity, we received an email indicating that Hizook's Google Adsense account was being disabled.  There was no further explanation, no warning, no attempt made to resolve the situation -- in fact, our only recourse was to fill out a web form and hope for a prompt response.  Apparently that is indicative of Google's customer service.  The remainder of our account is chronicled below.  But, as extremely loyal Google users (Search, Gmail, Google Voice, Google Calendar, formerly Adsense, someday Adwords) and Google share holders, we are simply... aghast.  So now, instead of writing about quality robot news, we are wasting our time and effort discussing this.

The flurry of web exposure began Monday Aug 17th, and proceeded (generally) as follows.  The screenshots shown were supposed to be trophies.

 

Hizook on Slashdot Frontpage (Aug 17th)

On the 17th, our review of the new science fiction movie, District 9, hit the front page of Slashdot.
 Hizook on Make Magazine Frontpage (Aug 18th) On the 18th, the very cool electroadhesive robots made it on Make Magazine.
 Hizook on Engadget Frontpage (Aug 22nd) On the 22nd, the YouTube video of the high-speed, dexterous hand became extremely popular.  This landed Hizook.com on the front page of Engadget.
 Hizook on Hacker News Frontpage (Aug 22nd) Followed the next day (Aug 23rd) by Hacker News.
 Hizook on Reddit Frontpage (Aug 22nd) Then, on the same day (Aug 23rd), the same link ended up on the front page of Reddit -- twice!  (at numbers 7 and 12)
 Hizook on Slashdot Frontpage (Aug 24th) Followed closely by another Slashdot front page appearance on the 24th.
 Hizook on Digg's Frontpage Of course, Digg didn't want to be left out.  It had a direct link to the video uploaded by Hizook on its front page.  The video now has ~350,000 views!

 

Great trophies for a little robotics website dedicated to academics and professionals.  Until the dreaded Google email at 11pm on a Sunday night (Aug. 23rd):

 

Hello,

While going through our records recently, we found that your AdSense
account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers. Since
keeping your account in our publisher network may financially damage our
advertisers in the future, we've decided to disable your account.

Please understand that we consider this a necessary step to protect the
interests of both our advertisers and our other AdSense publishers. We
realize the inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you in advance
for your understanding and cooperation.

If you have any questions about your account or the actions we've taken,
please do not reply to this email. You can find more information by
visiting
https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=57153.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

 

That's real helpful.  And thanks for the head's up -- with this spike in exposure, we were averaging 10,000 visitors per day, up from a nominal 100 visitors per day.  This was a significant feat for us. 

 

Google Analytics Spike

Based on the supplied link, our only recourse was to submit an online appeal via web form, at which time Google might eventually get back to us.  Since we're notoriously working at all hours of the night, including weekends (like 11pm on a Sunday), we made a prompt reply that night (Aug. 23rd):

 

Name: [withheld]

Company Name: Hizook

Email Address: [withheld]

Adsense Login: [withheld]

AdSense publisher ID number: [withheld]

Example URLs where you've placed your ads:  http://www.hizook.com  http://www.hizook.com/blog/2009/08/03/high-speed-robot-hand-demonstrates...

Date your account was disabled:  8/23/2009

Have you appealed the disabling of this account in the past?: No

Do you have any other active AdSense accounts?: No

Who are the intended users of your site?:  Robotics specialists and enthusiasts -- particularly researchers and students

From what parts of the world do your users view your site?:   Globally

How are your users accessing the web?:  Mostly through high-speed internet connections: cable modems and university campus computers

Does your site content include content copied from other sites on the web (not including RSS feeds)?:  No

What is the source of your site's content?:  Travis is the sole content creator, with occasional PhD students writing guest articles.  He writes blog posts targeted to robotics researchers.

How many people are involved with the administration of the site?:  Two, and no ads are displayed from our administration and content creation pages.

How often do you update your site?:  Once or twice per week.

Have you ever purchased traffic to your site(s)?:  No.

Have you ever signed up for services that give users incentives to visit your site/ads?:  No.

How do users get to your site? How do you promote your site?:  While there is little active promotion, the quality of the posts typically results in them being picked up by other large blogs (Engadget, Make Magazine, etc.)

Why do you believe the traffic to your Google ads is valuable to advertisers?: Absolutely!  We are extremely highly ranked in search terms related to high-end robotics and sensing systems.  This is an extremely important market for many of your clients.

Would visitors to your site have any reason to increase your AdSense earnings? If so, why?:  No.

Have you or your site ever violated the AdSense program policies or Terms & Conditions? If so, how?:  No.  We have adhered to all Google policies (search, adsense, analytics) since initial site launch almost one year ago.

Any relevant information that you believe may explain the invalid click activity we detected:  We normally see a mere 100 visits per day.  In the last week, several of our articles have been picked up by Slashdot, Reddit, Digg, and YouTube's popular videos.  This has resulted in a 1500% increase in activity -- something we were very excited about, until it (apparently) triggered this unfounded disabling of our Adsense account.  Incidentally, the traffic driven to us by these sites have been very fickle -- much lower CTR and eCPM than our normal dedicated visitors!

Any data in your site traffic logs or reports that indicate suspicious IP addresses, referrers, or requests:  None.  Again, the only difference being the 1500% increase in traffic this last week from legitimate sources -- though they're slamming our server.

 

 

For the next three days, we tried to determine any possible cause of the account disabling.  We identified and rectified a number of items.  Having not heard from Google by Tuesday night (Aug. 25th, 72 hours after having Adsense disabled), we re-submitted the online appeal form with updated, more detailed information to show our good-faith efforts and desire for a prompt recovery.  The replies to the web form were nearly the same, except for the following two responses:

 

Have you or your site ever violated the AdSense program policies or Terms & Conditions? If so, how?:  Hizook.com admittedly lacked a privacy policy as required by the Adsense TOS.  This has been rectified as seen at the bottom of the website.  Other possible infractions and their fixes have been listed below.

 

Any relevant information that you believe may explain the invalid click activity we detected:  In good faith, we have identified and corrected six items that may have been the cause of the disabling:

(1) Much of the site administration occurs from a robotics lab at Georgia Tech (University) from behind a router (single out-bound IP) that serves ~30 robotics students.  It is likely that most of these students read the site, as it frequently features their work.  Clicks from them may have been (falsely) considered fraudulent.  We have expressed this concern to them, and implored them to NOT click on Hizook paid links, legitimate or otherwise.

(2) In the last week, Hizook.com has registered 95,000 unique visitors as a byproduct of being featured (twice each!) on Slashdot, Reddit, and Engadget.  This is a stark increase compared to 700 visitors per week normally enjoyed.  This is an atypical occurance beyond our control that may have triggered the disabling of the account, but was certainly not fraudulent -- we hope it continues.

(3) Hizook.com admittedly lacked a privacy policy as required by the Adsense TOS.  This has been rectified as seen at the bottom of the website.

(4) A request for "reconsideration in search" was issued ~1 week ago.  This was requested as images had been mistakingly removed from consideration by Hizook.com's robots.txt.  Perhaps this (faulty?) reconsideration request led to disabling of the site?  This was certainly not intentional.

(5) Personal website [withheld] was originally ported from the Hizook.com code base and mistakingly employed the same Adsense referral code.  This site has been unmaintained for many months, and should have generated no fraudulent clicks.  The referral code has been removed from [withheld]

(6) A copy of Hizook.com was being run on a local machine for testing purposes.  It had the Hizook.com Adsense module enabled as well.  No fraudulent clicks should have originated from this source, but certain impression ads may have.  It has also been disabled to prevent further conflict.


As you can see, we have made (many) good-faith efforts to ameliorate the situation.  We are upstanding netizens who believe that they have been mistakenly profiled as fraudulent and had their account disabled.  We frequent numerous Google products, own Google public stock, have been issued job offers from your company, and would never defraud the Adsense service.

We request that you re-enable the account, preventing us from seeking alternative options.  We would appreciate a prompt reply and welcome any dialogue that would further elucidate the suspect activity.  Further, we are willing to forfeit any gains that Google perceives as ill-gotten.   

 

Now, the next day (Aug 26th), there was still no response.  But that doesn't stop Google from emailing an Adsense customer satisfaction survey:

 

Hi Valued AdSense Publisher!

If you've received payments from Google AdSense in the past, the Google
AdSense payments team wants to hear from you!

How you can help:
Complete the survey below. It's brief (9 questions) and should take no
longer than 5 minutes to complete.

Why this is important:
Google AdSense would like to learn more about our publishers' satisfaction
in regards to the available payment preferences.  Through this survey, our
aim is to better align our plans to most effectively pay publishers like
you.

When to do it:
There's never a better time than the present. If you can't get to it right
away please do so before September 8th, when the survey will close.

Where to find the survey:

[withheld]


Please be assured that your feedback will not affect your account's status
or performance in any way. We appreciate your help!

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

Email Preferences:  We sent you this email because you have indicated that
you are willing to receive occasional AdSense market research emails. If
you do not wish to receive such emails in the future, please visit your
AdSense Account settings page under the 'My Account' tab
(https://www.google.com/adsense/lang-change  - AdSense login required),
edit your 'Email Preference' by removing the check next to 'Google market
research', and click 'Save Changes.'

Google Inc.
1600 Amphiteahtre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
USA 

 

How satisfied do you think we are?!?  That is some gall!  More importantly, it is the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back,"  resulting in this atrocious article. 

Google has officially made us, some of its most loyal users (and long-time shareholders), seriously question its business practices and whether or not they are evil.  We would never do business with a company with such poor customer service -- Google has some serious making up to do if they're to retain our trust... A good start would be re-enabling our Adsense account!

 

 

Update 8/28/2009:  The Google AdSense team responded this morning, approximately 4 hours following this article being made public:

After thoroughly re-reviewing your account and taking your feedback into
consideration, we've decided to reinstate your account, effective
immediately. However, there will be a delay before ads start running on
your website, as it may take up to 48 hours before all of our servers are
informed of the change.

We appreciate your patience, and apologize for any inconvenience. If you
have any questions, please visit our Help Center at
http://www.google.com/adsense/support.

 

We are glad that Google sought fit to re-visit and restore our AdSense account.  It certainly appears that somewhere, somehow, they are listening; however, the lack of clear communication channels is disconcerting and this incident will not soon be forgotten.

 


Note:  This article details a series of events that occured starting on August 17th, 2009.  Comments on this article have been disabled.  Hizook.com is a robotics website, and is not the proper venue for commentary related to this issue.