Don’t Build Your Business On AdSense (Or Bank at Barclays)

Don’t build your business on AdSense – that’s what this story tells me, loud and clear.

On Monday the 13th of December – two weeks before Christmas – I was sacked by a Google algorithm.

It sent an email to me and summarily killed my main source of income. No humans were involved in this process at all. It was, literally, the most inhumane letting go I have ever experienced.

As well as ‘letting me go’ the Google Algorithm also confiscated all my earned income October 31st to December 13th. Tough indeed – and no human has ever done that to me; they have always paid me for work done.

In related news, I changed banks this week, from Barclays to HSBC, after 23 years as a Barclay’s customer (I got my first account when I was 9). Why? After I got married, we had my accounts made into joint accounts, but Barclays refused to give my wife a debit (note: not credit, debit) card so she could spend our money! Like the story above, it was an algorithm which said “No” – credit scoring in this case. (Although she’s never been in debt and has no adverse events on her credit report.) There was an automated appeal process, but once that had failed, the people in our local bank branch were utterly powerless to do anything about it, or even tell us what needed to be fixed. Despite me having no history with them, HSBC were much more accommodating. So much for the value of being a loyal customer.

The difference between the two stories is that there is at least some competition in the UK banking sector. How much is there in the online ad market?

9 thoughts on “Don’t Build Your Business On AdSense (Or Bank at Barclays)

  1. It could be something as silly has having an authorised overdraft on your account, at which point everyone with access to the account suddenly needs to be credit rated.

  2. I do have an overdraft on my account. But the account holders are ‘jointly and severally liable’ for the money – and so even if she were to blow it all, they would have me on the hook for it. So why does she need a credit check which says that she is ‘worthy’ of an overdraft of that size all on her own?

    My issue is basically that Barclays treated us like two separate individuals rather than a married couple. HSBC, on the other hand, were e.g. happy to make her a secondary cardholder on my new credit card.


  3. @Dan: Yeah, sure. So Marketing made a big flashy announcement saying they were fixing this-and-that a bug. Then they told some programmer-in-charge: “That bug has to be fixed by opening time Monday, and no excuses”. So the programmer made a quick-and-dirty fix by Friday evening (wanted to spend the week-end with the wife and kids, didn’t he?), and what happened? Of course you already guessed it: the chip-and-PIN flaw got fixed, but without enough checking and testing, and it introduced a regression elsewhere. Exit Gerv and (I suppose) some other account holders too.

  4. Yep, the AdSense article is a lot of heartstring-tugging fluff wrapped around a single core problem: “I asked my users to click ads to support me”, which Google has always considered click fraud and has always been an offense penalized by immediate termination.

    The guy is totally wrong about “no humans were involved in this process at all” too, as both the initial termination and the re-review were human reviews.

    I do think Google could have done a much better job of communicating, though. Sending robotic legalese-sounding form letters is pretty lame. It wouldn’t have killed somebody to write a more personal-sounding letter.

  5. The DPA gives you the right to require them to reconsider decisions based solely on automatic processing, so you could have tried sending them a notice to that effect.

  6. pkasting: I think there’s a difference between stating a true (and fairly obvious) fact (“I get income from the advertising on this site”) and encouraging a behaviour (“please click on the ads”). My impression from what he writes, which I agree is only one side of the story, is that he did the former. And I don’t think that should be wrong.

    Also, if the AdSense signup program doesn’t currently have a “Here are the top five reasons we have to ask people to leave the AdSense program; please be careful about them” email or screen, it should have. Saying “it was on page 34 of the legalese” is legally OK but not very human-friendly.

    I certainly agree about the better communication.

  7. I think I’ve mentioned this before, possibly even on this very blog: where I come from, people don’t trust large international chain banks. Most people around here use a bank that is headquartered within a few miles of their home.

    As for the guy that got dropped from AdSense, I have a pretty hard time coughing up very much sympathy, when he admits outright that AdSense was his primary source of income. That’s just… words fail me.

    I mean, it’s one thing for a small hobby site owner to use AdSense to help defray some of the expenses involved with running a site. Sure, okay. But attempting to make a career out of it is eleven different kinds of lame. I’m thinking this guy urgently needed to go out and get a job doing something useful.

    Yes, yes, web development can be useful — but if the web development he was doing was useful enough to constitute a job, someone would have been willing to pay him something for it, and I’m not talking about AdSense.

    Also, the fact that they terminated the account retroactively (“confiscated all my earned income” in his words) makes me suspect that there’s probably an important piece of the story he’s not telling us. Although, they presumably didn’t also delist his site (because he’d likely have been complaining about that too if they did), so he may not be guilty of the most egregious offenses.

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