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.