A class-action lawsuit filed against Google this week claims the company has bilked publishers out of millions owed to them through its AdSense program. AdSense publishers that had their accounts shut off and final payments withheld due to perceived invalid activity have been threatening to bring this type of suit against Google for years, but this appears to be the first actually filed.
You may recall a few weeks ago a self-proclaimed ex-Googler claimed to have damning evidence that Google proactively keeps high-earning AdSense publishers from getting big payouts by abruptly shutting down their accounts just prior to the payment date and withholding all earnings for the period.
“I have communications. I have documents, I have files, I have lists, and I have names. I have all of it,” the person wrote, going on to say the files would be handed over to legal representatives of a potential class-action lawsuit.
However, it does not appear any this alleged evidence was provided to Hagens Berman, the law firm that filed the suit on behalf of Free Range Content, a California-based company that runs a content syndication site called Repost.us, before the filing. The suit mentions the allegations, but the attorney’s don’t seem to have had any contact with the person:
“plaintiff cannot confirm the veracity of the allegations made by the individual … but in any event … Google nonetheless has behaved unlawfully in refusing to pay publishers, including the plaintiff, sums earned by them for serving AdSense ads in the period prior to Google’s disabling of those publishers’ accounts.”
Request for comment to the attorneys as to whether they’ve since had contact or received any of the files from the accuser has not been answered.
Free Range claims that at the end of February 2014 its AdSense estimated earnings report showed earnings totaling more than $40,000. Suspecting something wasn’t right since the account typically generated between $8,000 and $11,000 per month, Free Range says it contacted Google about the discrepancy. A call between the two parties was allegedly scheduled for March 6. On March 4, Free Range says, it’s AdSense account was disabled with a reference to “invalid activity” happening in the account.
The crux of the claim is that publishers should be paid on the legitimate earnings for the period and that failing to do so is a breach of contract and violation of good faith and fair dealing. The suit says Google’s own estimate issued around the beginning of March 2014 put the total due to Free Range at over $11,000 for the period.
The suit goes on to say Google’s contractual terms are “unconscionable. Accordingly, they are unenforceable.”
“oppressive terms appear in contracts of adhesion that were foisted upon small businesses and individuals with no bargaining power by a giant and powerful corporation, Google, that drafted them and presented them as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. There was no negotiation, and there was an absence of meaningful choice. Furthermore, these terms are so one-sided as to shock the conscience”
Whether a judge will see AdSense contracts in the same light remains to be seen, but even if that happened, it seems unlikely Google would ever let this kind of suit get to trial. We’ll have to see if any of the evidence that self-proclaimed ex-Googler claims to have ever materializes.