AdSense site owner Aaron Greenspan (perhaps familiar to long-time Laboratorium readers from an earlier venture) has his account suspended, sues Google for the $721 balance, and wins. No one emerges from the story looking good.
One the one hand, Google (probably) suspended the account because Greenspan was placing ads on a parked domain—a feature that Google opened up to the public two days later. Of course, he can’t find anyone at Google who’ll answer his messages about what happened, and the legal department won’t even talk to him. And when he sues in small-claims court, they send a paralegal unfamiliar with the facts of the case who relies primarily on the famous “any reason or no reason” defense. It’s almost like they’re trying to put an exclamation point on Frank’s arguments about transparency and accountability.
On the other, Greenspan really was putting ads on a parked domain; the fact that Google is now in that business doesn’t make it right. Indeed, many advertisers don’t want their ads showing up on parked domains, and Google now offers them an opt-out. He wins his small-claims case because the judge decides to distinguish “any” reason from “no” reason. That’s a questionable result; the judge is able to get there only because the paralegal can’t argue the terms of the contract effectively or relate them to the specific decision in Greenspan’s case.
For me, the case isn’t a template for a wave of lawsuits forcing Google to open up. Greenspan won because Google didn’t take him seriously. But that’s precisely the problem Google has now: not a legal one, but a customer- and public-relations one. Even where it has potentially legitimate reasons for its actions, the institutional culture of arrogance and automation prevents it from communicating those reasons. As the discretionary decisions multiply, people are disinclined to trust Google’s “trust us” attitude when its responses in particular cases are so obviously uncaring and ham-fisted.
I believe in your power to change the world for the better. I believe that you mean well. And I believe that most of your decision are for the best. But please, please, please: make your processes more transparent, articulate your policies more clearly, and provide more credible appeals. You are the prince of the Internet, and it’s better to be loved than feared.
Your Loyal Opposition