Are Google evil now?

I got an email from Google today. It wasn’t good news. Here’s what it said:

After reviewing our records, we’ve determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity. Because we have a responsibility to protect our AdWords advertisers from inflated costs due to invalid activity, we’ve found it necessary to disable your AdSense account. Your outstanding balance and Google’s share of the revenue will both be fully refunded back to the affected advertisers.

AdSense is the Google service that lets you put adverts on websites and receive money when they are clicked on, and also to put a search box up and get paid when that is used. It doesn’t pay very well, but I was hoping to make a few pounds a month. I actually have two AdSense accounts, one used on my business web sites, and one on my personal sites. I received the same email about both.

So why have Google shut down my account? What is this so-called risk of generating invalid activity? ComeradeFury and PsychoticLynx both sent me the link to this story that has the answer, What it’s like being sacked by a computer.

The writer of that story read through all the terms and conditions of Adsense to find what he could have done wrong (as Google won’t actually tell anyone) and he found the odds overwhelmingly stacked against actually managing to do everything right. One thing in particular stood out though. AdSense customers are not allowed to influence whether people click on their advert or not.

In the sidebar I have a small piece of text that was above the advert, telling people how to support me in writing this blog. It recommends my computer business, and my Amazon affilliate link, and it also at one point mentioned that you could click on the ads if they were relevant.

I think that is the reason my account was shut down. Because I happened to mention that it would help me if people clicked on the ads. It seems overkill – I wasn’t advocating endlessly clicking everything that came up, just using the ads if something useful was there, however it was a violation of the rules. What is more frustrating is that because I used my business account to show the adverts for a day while I was waiting for my personal account to be activated, I have lost that too. That means that the ads and the search box on the start page that my customers use will no longer earn me anything. Worse than that, Google have confiscated the few pounds that I had accumulated in those accounts and returned them to the advertisers.

I am unhappy that I made a trivial mistake that has cost me money and made life harder for me. I am furious with Google because it seems that there are no second chances. Once the computer says no, that’s it. I would love to boycot Google, but how could I? I use so many services with them. Search is just the tip of the iceberg. (And the alternatives are not nearly as good.) I use Google Analytics for my websites, and Feedburner to keep stats on how many use RSS to read my blog. I collate all my email in Gmail, I synchronise my Android phone with their calendar, contacts and email, I use Google Maps and Lattitude, Google Reader, Google Docs. I have spreadsheets from Google Docs embedded in websites. I use Google Checkout to take payments for my business, and to pay for apps for my phone. I put videos on Youtube, because, well, where else does anyone look for videos these days? At the time of writing I’ve had 636,357 views of my Youtube videos, and those videos are still creating clicks for Google, generating income for them. I don’t want to give them any more money until they live up to their motto of “Do no evil” but there’s no way to avoid them. Google is too big to do no evil.

A sense of entitlement

This headline annoyed me. “Gaming industry lose ‘billions’ to chipped consoles

Big business and media companies frequently complain that piracy loses them vast amounts of revenue, a cry which all too often is swallowed up by the news media and wheeled out as headlines.

It’s rubbish.

Copyright violation (call it by the proper name please) costs businesses nothing like the amount that they claim it does. So what if copying a game, film, song or piece of software gives nothing to the creator at that point? In the vast majority of cases the person that copied something was never going to give the publisher any money. They either would have gone for a cheaper alternative, or they would not have paid for anything at all.

This idea that a copyright holder is losing out comes as part of a larger sense of entitlement that seems only to be held by rich people. When they see something getting popular, making money or not, they think that they ought to be getting some money out of it. This happens even when they had nothing to do with it!

There is a very strong argument that people that copy things actually generate extra income for the copyright holders. People that download a lot of music and video tend to purchase more music and video than those that don’t. People that copy software often then recommend that other people get, and usually pay for, that software, or may use a copy at home but pay for a version for work.  Photoshop is a common example of that. I’m sure Microsoft is quite happy when teenagers and students copy Windows and various development tools, because it means that they learn on those systems, and later go on to purchase and recommend those systems later in life. Microsoft has even been known to give away copies of these things to students at university in order to hook them.

Patent trolls are another example of this inflated sense of entitlement. There are companies that exist purely to gather up patents and copyrights purchased at low prices, wait until someone builds a business on principles affected by those patents but not say anything, then years down the line, suddenly threaten a lawsuit unless that business pays royalties on all of the affected products, past and future.

The concept of net neutrality is needed because of another example. Take the scenario of a person at home watching a Youtube video.  The consumer pays Internet Service Provider, which we will call ISP A. The content provider pays ISP B. Both ISPs link in the middle. In the UK the link up is often at Telehouse in London. Currently, those two ISPs have an agreement to carry all traffic from each other because it balances out. But now, ISP A is demanding money from content provider to transfer information to consumer. If the content provider doesn’t pay, ISP A could slow down their traffic while speeding up that of another content provider that did pay, or worse, just dump their traffic. But hang on, the consumer has already paid their ISP to carry traffic from the content provider! ISP A is effectively taking bribes to sell out their customer.

With internet providers selling out their customers, big businesses using overly broad patents to kill innovation and small business, music copyright holders demanding extra money to use a song that you have already purchased on your MP3 player instead of a CD, and many other examples, be in no doubt that big business and its rich owners are not working in your interests.

Avoid – or write off your warranty

Over the past fifteen years I have bought quite a few computer parts. I used to buy a lot of them from Aria PC Technology. In fact, I bought all the parts of my current PC and my previous PC there.  My business now spends thousands of pounds per year on replacement parts for the computers that we fix. You won’t find me buying them from Aria though, and here is why.

They might as well not provide a warranty.

The main activity of my business is repairing computers. From time to time people want to purchase a computer from us, and I explain that quite honestly, I can’t compete on price, and if I did manage to, we couldn’t afford the warranty obligations. Well I suppose not honouring the warranty is one way to keep the price low.

Note: the rest of this rant is mostly here to make me feel better. Feel free to skip it. Continue reading “Avoid – or write off your warranty”

Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!

In this article I will discuss various different ways of using Twitter and how to make use of it as a small business. The advice contained here is aimed at the very small business, as well as individuals who are their own brand such as authors, journalists and artists. Continue reading “Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!”

All your photos are belong to Facebook

Does Facebook have the right to sell your photos? Worryingly, the answer is probably yes.

The original photo as used by the Daily Mail. ©UCL Occupation

The Daily Mail published a story (The word story is used here in the loosest possible sense.) about Aaron Peters, a student involved in the UCL Occupation and the UK Uncut protests. The second photo in that article, also shown above, was taken by a friend of Aarons and was posted to Flickr, where it is licensed for re-use by others under the Creative Commons “Some rights reserved” license. This would allow anyone to use the photo as long as they attribute the copyright of the photo to “UCL Occupation” or provide a link back to the photo on Flickr, as I have here.

Copyright as shown by the Daily Mail

However, the Daily Mail has actually labelled the picture as ©Facebook. This would imply that they took the photo from Facebook, where it had been uploaded for ease of sharing with friends. It is possible that the Mail simply lifted the photo from Facebook without permission, which would be straightforward copyright violation. However, reading the the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities gives this information:

2. Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Basically, that boils down to saying that Facebook can give or sell your photo to anyone that they like, for any purpose including commercial use and publication in a national newspaper. The question is, do Facebook have this arrangement with the Daily Mail? Is it the case that the Daily Mail can use any photo that has been uploaded to Facebook? Do they pay per photo or do they have a blanket license agreement?

One thing is certain. I won’t be putting any more photos on Facebook.

—Addendum —

Many people are saying that the license granted to Facebook is subject to your privacy settings. That is not true. The order and the wording used clearly show that the license that you grant to Facebook overrides the preceding statement. Privacy settings such as ‘Friends only’ may have prevented the Daily Mail from seeing the picture at all, but that is not the issue here.

It is a necessary evil to grant a license to Facebook to display your photo, otherwise they could not show it to people viewing Facebook. The problem arrises because the license that Facebook claim is much broader than necessary, granting them a sub-licensable, royalty free use of your photo. That is the wording that allows them to sell your photo and keep the profits.

It might be that the Daily Mail stole the photograph without permission and the ©Facebook is  half hearted attempt to get away with it. It might be that Facebook sold the license to them. Either way, people need to know.

Digital Rights Management

The hard disk I just bought had a film on it.  I bought the disk because it was cheap and the film itself is of no interest at all to me, but I did find two interesting things about it.

  1. The film can only be watched on a total of three PCs or media players. Ever.
  2. The activation code expires in September 2011.

If I had bought this product for the film, I would be extremely disapointed in it. The restrictions they have placed on it mean that I could watch it on my destktop PC, laptop, and portable video player, and then could never activate it again. Bought a new PC? Tough. Not only that, but I won’t be able to watch the film on any device that I buy after September 2011.

Film industry, you’re not doing a very good job of convincing us that this DRM is not evil!

I am going to make sure that I keep a copy of this film around, and my recipt. I’m going to be demanding a refund in 2011.

Teetering on the edge

Starting a business seems to be a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff and not quite falling off.

I’ve stepped right out of my comfort zone, and am wobbling about on the edge of the cliff. As I get more customers, more contracts, I am building up the business around me but step too far ahead and I will go crashing down, never to be heard from again. Half of business seems to be having the guts to ask for the work. I have to learn  to price my services appropriately, allow enough time for the work, then march up to the customer and say “You need x service, y product, and it will cost you z thousand.” Amazingly, when I do that, it works! The problem is, I agonise over every detail, don’t allow enough time, charge too little, and then worry that I am trying to sell the customer something they don’t want.

Things are changing now though. We are beginning to get enquiries, requests for quotes, referals. Suddenly starting a business is like a roller coaster.  The long, slow, tedious build up. The fear as you reach the top. The rush, the adrenaline as you suddenly shoot forward in to the unknown, the big loop turning your world upside down. But then, you come to a halt at the end of the ride. And you want to go again and take everyone you know on it too.

Argh panic panic

I’m nervous. I can’t sleep.

In a few hours my dad and I will visit a customer and present the findings of our first real consultancy work. If all goes well it will lead to several thousand pounds worth of sales and an ongoing contract. You know, almost as if this is real and I’m not just playing at it.

Getting this work will mean that we go from loss to break even, that we can not only pay our bills but also take out some of our expenses. Maybe even wages! All within our first year too. More than that, it also marks the transition from having time to waste to being too busy. We actually have several ongoing jobs at the moment and this week our advert and article go in Vale magazine. If we’re lucky then this week is where the business becomes reality.

Nervous? I’m bloody terrified!