The complaint came from… well, can you guess? No, not Microsoft — neither Ask.com nor Apple nor Facebook nor Twitter. The complaint came from none other than Google itself.
I wish I could address this response to the person who sent me the complaint. But, for reasons that will become obvious, I can’t; they’re anonymous and unreachable. So, I’ll blog it instead. If enough readers like, cite, link, and retweet this article, perhaps Google will get the message.
From their automated mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 21:10 EDT on 27 Jan 2011:
This message was sent from a notification-only email address that does not accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message. --------------------------------------------------------------------------
That’s just flat out irritating. If you have something to say, have the decency to come right out and tell me who you are and how to contact you. If it’s important enough to bother me — to threaten me — let me respond to whomever made the accusation, and, in this case, made such an absurd error.
Hello, While reviewing your account, we noticed that you are currently displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our policies. For instance, we found violations of AdSense policies on pages such as http://googlewhack.com/. Please note that this URL is an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of your website.
Clearly, you know where your Adsense banners appear. Since you have those details in your file (but I have to go look them up) why not simply include such helpful information?
Upon my manual review, four pages at my site display Adsense banners: Googlewhack home page, The Whack Stack, The Whack FAQ/Fhack, and Googlewhack Rules. Does anything there sound familiar? Are you a native English speaker? Have you spent any time online in the past ten years?
As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to make prominent use of "Google Brand Features" on sites displaying Google ads. This includes any sites that attempt to create a false association with Google or use Google trademarks in the URL.
The footer of every page at Googlewhack says: “Neither this site nor its contents are affiliated with the popular search engine Google – but ‘Googlewhacking’ sure is fun to say!” No one at Google ever asked me to post that, or any other disclaimer. I added it specifically to prevent any confusion.
When I coined the term “Googlewhack” in 2002, Googlewhack did not exist in Google’s index. I sent out word to a few friends who were just launching this whole crazy “blogging” fad. Remember when that was still new? My friends blogged it to their friends. And, they blogged it to their friends. Within a month, Googlewhack ranked as the second most popular topic in the Daypop blog search engine (right behind the Bloggies, as I recall).
Within sixty days of Googlewhack’s creation, Google itself had discovered over 30,000 pages mentioning Googlewhack. I printed out new articles as I discovered them. I printed articles from a hundred major dailies in the US. I kept printing articles from El País, and Pravda, and La Liberté, and from dozens more sources you might recognize, and from major media published in Greek and Portuguese and Farsi and other languages my browser didn’t recognize. I kept printing until I had a six-inch stack of printed articles about Googlewhack.
By then, I had my Nexcerpt news monitoring service up and running. Starting late in 2003, I kept track of the continued flow of articles there, even publishing news about Googlewhack at Nexcerpt in the years since. (You’ll see that many more recent articles don’t refer to my site: they simply use the word “Googlewhack,” which has entered the lexicon independent of my interests.)
Then Dave Gorman created his Googlewhack Adventure, which was a spectacular hit in Australia, all over Europe, and sold out off-Broadway in New York for quite a while, too.
Then Jon Lansey wrote an academic paper called “Googlewhacks for Fun and Profit.” Then he presented “Googlewhacks for Fun and Profit” as a Google Tech Talk. At Google. There are dozens of other videos at YouTube that mention Googlewhack, too, though perhaps you’re too busy finding violations to watch videos.
Beyond that written disclaimer, at the bottom of every page, which has been served well over thirty million times, I don’t know how to distance myself from Google.
Among the other choices and distinctions I made voluntarily over the past nine years, I explicitly noted non-affiliation with Google during live interviews with at least thirty different media outlets around the world, including BBC, CNN, NPR, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation — even when I did drive-time radio in Capetown, South Africa. That was a weird hour.
Oh, and I mentioned that Googlewhack wasn’t associated with Google when I did the puzzle with Wil Shortz (who recognized Googlewhack instantly) on NPR’s Weekend Edition. For months and months I kept telling listeners — certainly tens of millions in total — “This isn’t part of Google — they’re just letting you and me have some fun.”
How do I know Google was OK with all my Googletalk? Well, when I created Googlewhack on Tue, 08 Jan 2002 — Google was still over eighteen months away from its IPO on 19 Aug 2004. Every investor and employee at Google loved the press Googlewhack brought to their cause.
May I offer a few recollections?
I recall the first day Googlewhack made over 10,000 calls to Google’s search engine (perhaps in March, 2002) and thus was automatically blocked. I phoned David Krane, then Director of Global Communications and Public Affairs, who thanked me for creating such buzz for his company. Within ten minutes of my call, the server block was lifted, and Google never again blocked Googlewhack.
Well, unless you count today.
David also suggested creating a unique user agent, which I did — including even my own name — so they could be certain to accept future queries from Googlewhack.
I recall the e-mail (within days of speaking with David Krane) from Matt Cutts, then leader of Google’s Search Quality team, talking about how much fun people at Google were having playing with Googlewhack. I recall exchanging e-mail with Matt repeatedly when Googlewhackers found peculiar behaviors in Google’s index, such as the Cleaner Girl GoogleNACK and the multifariou, mysteriou Crise in Suffixe Esslessness.
It seemed that Matt liked hearing about such terrible technical failures firsthand, so he could address them before they received widespread attention… happening as they did a few months either side of Google’s IPO.
I recall traveling to the Googleplex the next year, at Matt’s invitation, and touring the old offices, as well as the SGI facilities they’d just rented. I recall sitting in the courtyard (since the dining room was overflowing) and having great barbecue, grilled in a truck outside (since the kitchen facilities were overtasked).
I recall Matt asking me to sign the “timeline” paper banner on the wall of headquarters, in the early-2002 timespan, when Googlewhack began.
I may misremember details, but I’m pretty sure Gwyneth Paltrow had signed on the day before, and Jimmy Carter the day after. Between their signatures, you’ll see, “Gary Stock, The Googlewhack Guy!” Given such august company, I must presume that roll of paper is already in a museum somewhere… maybe you could ask around.
As a result, we have disabled ad serving to the site.
Ten hours after your warning notice, Adsense ads are still clearly displayed on the Googlewhack home page, as well as The Whack Stack. Perhaps these are non-profit ads only? I have no way to verify this.
Your AdSense account remains active. However, we strongly suggest that you take the time to review our program policies (https://www.google.com/support/adsense/bin/answer.py?answer=48182&stc=aspe-2pp-en) to ensure that all of your remaining pages are in compliance.
I’m still left guessing at what violation you mean. I’ve looked for all the keywords you used in your complaint. There’s no mention on the “Google AdSense Program Policies” page of “brand” or “false” or “association” or “trademark.” Since you seem to think you know what the violation is, please link to it.
If my guess is right, and you don’t like the word “Googlewhack,” well… I simply don’t know how to get a page “in compliance” when its very identity contains the word “Google.” When I have the explicit verbal support of partners like David Krane, and the personal written approval of public figures like Matt Cutts, what more must I do?
Please note that we may disable your account if further violations are found in the future.
This is simply maddening. They’ve all been there for nine years, and will stay there for many more. How are they not going to be “found in the future”?
Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team Issue ID# 1693404 ----------------
Are you admitting that you’ve hassled over one and a half million customers this way?
For more information regarding this warning email, please visit our Help Center: https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=113058&stc=aspe-ai4-en.
If you offer a “Help Center,” it really needs to include some “Help.”
I clicked the first option, “Ad serving has been disabled to your site,” because that sounds right. I clicked “The ads on my site have been disabled. Can you re-enable ad serving?” because that sounds right. I clicked “contact us” because that sounds right.
Here’s your entire “Policy Violation Appeal” page:
AdSense › Help articles › Contacting Support › Policy Violation Appeal
No way to appeal. None. No appeal information. No appeal form. No appeal possible.
I clicked “Contacting Support.”
Here’s your entire “Contacting Support” page:
AdSense › Help articles › Contacting Support
No way to contact you. None. No contact information. No contact form. No contact possible.
I clicked the promising message that appeared intermittently at the bottom of those empty pages: Tell us how we’re doing: Please answer a few questions about your experience to help us improve our Help Center.
Here’s your entire “Send Feedback” page:
AdSense › Help articles › Contacting Support › Send Feedback
No way to send feedback. None. No feedback information. No feedback form. No feedback possible.
So, I wrote this little ditty, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
To clarify the scale of abuse Google has been suffering, Adsense reports these totals for the entire Googlewhack site since the last payment to my account, nearly a year ago:
March 1, 2010 - January 28, 2011 Page impressions: 406,491 Clicks: 76 Estimated earnings: $25.08
Since you haven’t actually sent me the $25.08 yet, please feel free to keep it. I would suggest spending it on something to improve your Adsense review process, or your help pages. But then, my input doesn’t seem high on your list of priorities.
I’d like to apologize in advance for the fact that the word “Google” appears all over this page. I assure you, this page is not affiliated with Google.
I understand that readers may Like, Share, Tweet, Digg, or otherwise promote this page, but those people also are not affiliated with Google. Even if they Buzz the damfool thing, they’re still not affiliated with Google.
Finally, I must point out how terrible it would be for readers to click an Adsense banner on this page — or any of my sites not affiliated with Google. Those clicks could only get me and you in even more trouble.
Gary Stock, The Googlewhack Guy
Update: Twenty hours later, Google comes to its Adsenses!