I am not generally one for writing blog entries about customer support failures. Thanks to my technical work I have had my fair share of dealing with call queues and help-desk systems over the last 20 years. But compared with my experience with Google AdSense over the last weeks all of these just pale into funny memories. I have never experienced the outright refusal to acknowledge an issue and blanket denial of communications.
The whole disaster began with an email we received in early August that our (Business) AdSense Account has been disabled.
This message was sent from a notification-only email address that does not accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message. Hello, 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 to the affected advertisers. Please understand that we need to take such steps to maintain the effectiveness of Google's advertising system, particularly the advertiser-publisher relationship. We understand the inconvenience that this may cause you, and we thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation. If you have any questions or concerns about the actions we've taken, how you can appeal this decision or invalid activity in general, you can find more information by visiting http://www.google.com/adsense/
support/bin/answer.py?answer= 57153. Yours sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
We have had our AdSense Account for quite a number of years and it had accumulated the enormous sum of ~$50 over the last few years (I do have no way of checking this figure since we have not been able to log into this account since it has been disabled). The auto-generated email contained a single link to a FAQ which lists some generic options on what could have possibly been happening.
At the time the account was disabled I did not think much of it as I thought it might be related to some work our developers had done in preparation for a new free service we were launching for the online learning community (http://ims2moodle.brightcookie.com) and we were wondering if we could use this as some way of getting a bit of a return for this service. We also made some changes to our account to reflect a recent change in naming and emails. However I immediately contacted Google AdSense using a form linked from the support forum. I filled in the form to lodge an appeal asking Google to please provide us with an explanation as to what had gone wrong so we could take actions to prevent this from happening in future. We received an auto-reply that the appeal had been received. On the 16th August we received the following.
Hello, Thank you for your appeal. We appreciate the additional information you've provided, as well as your continued interest in the AdSense program. However, after thoroughly re-reviewing your account data and taking your feedback into consideration, our specialists have confirmed that we're unable to reinstate your AdSense account. As a reminder, if you have any questions or concerns about your account, the actions we've taken, or invalid activity in general, you can find more information by visiting http://www.google.com/adsense/
support/bin/answer.py?answer= 57153. Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
Another copy & paste response. This was the last we have heard from Google AdSense. We have not have had a single response from Google Adsense since despite repeated attempts.
Since we had launched our service in the meantime we decided to create another AdSense Account using another GoogleID and after a week had this declined with no information as to why. I had also created another (personal) AdSense Account to use with this blog. This account was created and I was able to create an ad-channel for this blog (you might still see the empty spot at bottom of this entry (which I will remove in the next days or so).
However after roughly 2 weeks I received another email advising that my personal AdSense Account has been disabled as well – NO EXPLANATION. After another one or two emails over the next month to the above suport account which yielded (surprise !) no reply I decided in my despair to ring Google’s Australian Office in Sydney as a last ditch effort. As soon as I even mentioned the word ‘AdSense’ the person on the phone interrupted me an rattled down some script that there is “no support for Google AdSense available” (NO KIDDING !). After 10 minutes or so of repeating myself and feeling my adrenaline levels rise to unhealthy levels I decided to give up and do as the (not so) friendly person on the phone told me – send another email to – your guessed it – email@example.com with the familiar auto-response message. As per all the previous correspondence (or more likely monologue) I have to this day not received a reply. At that point in time I had given up on Google AdSense and started to look at alternative services.
However after receiving some excellent help from another member of an unrelated Enterprise Support in Sydney (hereinafter referred to as ” GoodSupportPerson“) on another (totally unrelated to AdSense) matter, which was taken care of in an exemplary manner, I got asked if there was anything else I needed assistance with. Poor GoodSupportPerson probably regretted asking this polite rethorical question at the end of a customer support incident ;-)
GoodSupportPerson forwarded my (in the meantime grown to 4) Case Numbers to the local AdSense team (even though he could have just rattled off the official AdSense “no support available” script). And GoodSupportPerson also followed this up personally with a reply after he got internal feedback (which if nothing else reveals there is human life within AdSense after all). He seemingly got a similar enthusiastic response from them [this is reading between the lines – as he obviously did not state this directly].
Apparently some “highly sophisticated pattern-identification technology” was the reason for disabling our account. If we would have gone to this degree of sophistication for fraudulent purposes surely this would just be ridiculous. We only had a couple of thousand hits on these sites over years (without major changes). Any monkey could create more than that just by doing random clicks by hand.
And if this was not caused by myself (which if this is really the cause I could say with certainty) why can I not even create a new account ?
Now I certainly do not blame Google for taking fraud seriously to protect their clients – to the contrary – I would expect nothing else. However I would at least expect there to be some procedure to address legitimate errors where activity turns out to be either in error or caused by a third party (with possibly dubios intent). Specially since this Service is obviously related to Google’s holy cash cow – AdWords (and I be damned if I ever use Adwords after this experience).
I was not asking to see proof of the alleged illegal activity. I would have even been happy to return any credits that from the time of discovery even though we have not been able to find anything wrong on our end. I also do not care about the technology used to discover this. However we are a reputable business with for over 10 years in the web-application game. I think as a Google client that has been recommending Google Services for years I think we would deserve the courtesy of at least having a chance to continue using a service if we did not do anything wrong.
At the end of these conversation GoodSupportPerson basically suggested giving up on AdSense and was hoping the experience would not cause me loosing faith in Google.
Reflection Time – what can be learned from this experience
- For me this raises a serious question about the fact that some corporations are getting bigger than whole countries. These companies are able to make up their own rules without accountability and get away with behavior most would consider highly unethical. What else could you call cancelling services and ceasing of funds without any possibility of any explanation ? When is big TOO big ?
- From my working perspective also has highlighted some of the dangers of placing your business in the hands of a third party (outsourcing / cloud-computing). It is something that I have always mentioned to my clients when discussing cloud-based services. I think that after this first hand experience I will probably have to put more emphasis on this when looking at risk management for these types of projects
- Don’t bet your business on Google Adsense – they won’t give a damn
- This puts a whole new meaning to the Google Motto “do no evil” – if you do nothing (ignore everything) it not hard to do no evil …
- I might have cursed the support teams of similarly sized 800 pound Gorilla Corporates Microsoft and Sun in the past – i have done you wrong. YOU GUYS ROCK compared to Google’s AdSense Team
- Don’t waste your time trying to get any support from Google AdSense firstname.lastname@example.org is obviously just a pointer to /dev/null masked by a confirmation receipt
- The person responsible for setting the “non-SUPPORT” guidelines deserves an award. You seriously could not have made this s..t up even if you tried really hard
- It’s time to explore other options for (might write this up after some research)
- Don’t waste you time trying to proof a principle to a corporation of this size
- if you ever need an example on HOW NOT TO DO SUPPORT – try Google AdSense, you won’t find much better
- I never knew writing blogs can be such a cathargic experience (and a good way to kill 2 hours on a plane flight).
- I might need to get a life. Time to move on …
Hopefully this will help some bloggers that are seeking to find some way to get a return for the hours spent writing. I would be EXTREMELY hesitant to put my faith in a company that behaves in the way described above. I don’t care about a the few dollars Google ‘cancelled’ without any way to even get an explanation. But if somebody really needs this as some income – don’t waste your time like we had to learn the hard way – have a good think and consider some alternatives.
PS: Again my personal thanks go the member of the unrelated Support Team within Google Sydney, which has gone out of his way to try to forward my issues to the Google AdSense Support. That does give some hope that there are obviously people within Google that do understand what the word SUPPORT means. THANK YOU !