I’m a longtime fanboy of Google, an early beta tester of their search product, and one of the few on Wall Street who was allowed to speak about their IPO, as my firm was not an underwriter (I said it was “well worth buying at the IPO price”).

Color me unimpressed with their latest variant of “Don’t Be Evil.” (Google Does Non-Evil Thing).  While much of the blogosphere is agog over Google’s effort to clean out the scammers and hucksters so prevalent in the online ad world.  The search and online ad giant is banning ad companies that involve “online scams and frauds:”

“Google will begin to notify advertisers that they have been permanently banned. They will receive an email with details of this ban and the email will explain how to appeal the ban. I am told that banned advertisers can reply to the email to start the “appeals process.” Every reply should get a response from a dedicated Google representative.”

Don’t get me wrong, its a step in the right direction.

But if Google really wants to get serious about this, they would go after the many sites that host these crap ads: Cut & paste blogs, splogs, and scrapper sites. They exist solely to host all those ad scams Google is so concerned about.

Despite the many positive things I have written over the years about Google, they are unusually lackadaisical about copyright issues and unauthorized reproduction of content.  If they were to find some religion about these sites, they would kill two birds with one stone.

Let’s look at how and where they can stamp out the hosts of ad scammers and bogus advertisements now spreading over the intertubes.

Here’s a whacky idea: How about we start with Blogger, a Google property? It seems to attract an unusual number of splogs (Spam Blogs) and content scrapers. These primarily Chinese and Russian spammers then use Google AdSense to capture income on their stolen content, regardless of ad quality. Get rid of the splogs, and you also dramatically reduce demand for the junk ads.

Despite sending DMCA notices, these scraper sites persist in hanging around for a long time. They change blogger domains like most people change their underwear. Google seems to do very little proactively to hunt down these weasels.  My experience has been they do a  s l o w  job responding to DMCA takedown notices. I’ve done the DMCA fax/mail thing repeatedly, and for weeks, (and sometimes months) nothing seems to happens.

DMCA does not require an email notification — but that sure as heck would allow Google to be more proactive.

We all know Google is filled with very smart mathematicians, programmers, and deep thinkers. How hard is it to come up with an algo to scan and verify the scraper/splogs stealing content and hosting bogus adsense adverts? They should be proactively weeding out these bad elements — even if it costs them a few bucks in ad dollars.

Or, maybe they can’t do it; perhaps the vaunted Google brain trust is more PR than IQ.

Is it Don’t be evil? or “Don’t bother us . . .?”

Category: Intellectual Property, Technology, Weblogs

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

30 Responses to “How Google Can Better Fulfill “Don’t Be Evil””

  1. DM RTA says:

    “unusually lackadaisical about copyright issues and unauthorized reproduction of content.”

    Barry, why is this Google’s job and not yours? I am not sure I have a firm opinion either way but every argument out there seems to lay that responsibility on them as if they are a utility operating with government approval and therefore should police the rif raff on the new frontier. Isn’t this why Chuck Conners became well known on (ther TV version) of our last frontier? Has the digital rifle been invented yet? I guess what I am really asking is that if we lay that duty on Google then aren’t we then giving them too much power? I am guessing that in 10-15 years we have three or four Googles based on innovation. Am I missing something ?

    ~~~

    BR: Who said it cannot be both? Its my site, and I send out DMCA notices every month.

    But Google seems to have suddenly discovered that they are a great enabler of all these spammers and scammers.

    If Google wants to get rid of the junk ads, they should consider the above suggestion about the sites that host these ads . . .

  2. Bob the unemployed says:

    >> But if Google really wants to get serious about this, they would go after the many sites that host these crap ads

    If Google really, really wanted to get serious, they would go after those who are paying to have their products advertised in this manner.

  3. redtox says:

    They make money on this stuff and are under no obligation to stamp it out. They are only now starting to take some steps b/c they are worried about the FTC in light of its recent rulemaking on affiliate marketing in blogs. Unfortunately, they are only not evil to the extent required by law.

    As to the copyright issue… Like most profitable internet companies that don’t sell physical goods, Google makes a lot of money on copyright infringement and has a pretty aggressive interpretation of copyright law when it is in their interest (Google books, anyone?). Unfortunately for the providers of quality content like Barry, the DMCA has placed the burden of policing infringements squarely on their own shoulders. We are not likely to see a different legal approach anytime soon, and Google will be happy to continue to profit from infringements until / unless things change.

  4. Dan Duncan says:

    There’s a huge conflict at the heart of what Google does.

    On the one hand, it wants to be The Definitive Source of Information.

    On the other…it wants to Get Paid.

    Think of two overlapping circles: One circle is all about selling a product…Zapatos Shoe site, for example. On the other straight information…Wikipedia.

    There’s no problem with either extreme. Things get a messy, though, when you mix the two.

    A simple example would be for those foolish enough to want to play the Forex Game. In Forex, there’s A LOT of sales pitches going on (which broker to sign up with…software that will “make you millions”, etc). But there is also a learning curve. People need information before they’ll send thousands of dollars to a forex broker.

    It’s on this shaded area that involves both Sales and Information…that Google is a disaster. It’s a breeding ground for bullshit “content” and dishonest sales pitches.

    Unfortunately for Google, it’s on these sites where it makes so much of its money. It’s where people pay to really advertise…because people are really searching for information in order to make an “informed” decision.

    It will really hurt Google’s bottom line to rid itself of these vermin.

    Basically, Google just outsources it’s association with this scum to sites like Commission Junction and Clickbank…It’s at these sites where they broker the commission arrangements between the affiliate advertisers and the underlying seller.

    An example would be:

    Dirtbag #1 has a Special Stock Trading software (usually based on technical analysis) and looks for advertisers who “work from home.

    He goes to Clickbank and offers to pay a 60% commission on all products sold.

    Dirtbag #2, who’s good at making websites, goes to Clickbank and decides to sell the Stock Trading software “that will make millions”. [For some reason, Dirtbag #2 would rather sell shit on Google Adwords than make millions trading stocks.]

    Dirtbag #2 then sets up a Landing Page for the software with “Killer Sales Copy that converts like craaazzzyyy!”

    Dirtbag #2 then puts up his Landing Page on the Google network and pays Google for the clicks.

    After a few weeks and LOTS of clicks, Google will pretend to police this shit because Google doesn’t “want to detract from the user’s experience”. But in the end, it’s all just a shell game. Google can’t get rid of these guys because Google can’t make any money from YouTube or from searches on duck-billed platypuses.

  5. Pete from CA says:

    “maybe they can’t do it”

    I think it’s more likely that it’s not challenging enough. As they say, the easiest way to make an engineer to solve your problem is to imply that it’s impossible.

    You should have written “alas it comes as no surprise that Google can’t solve this problem, after all Microsoft and Yahoo both tried and failed miserably”. The prototype would be ready by the end of Thanksgiving weekend… :)

  6. CaptiousNut says:

    Even without ads – like this one:

    http://feedmil.com/feedview?q=ritholtz&urlhash=b88e8299faf12d8d965a2fdbadba7ba7&v=

    ….there’s something wrong with how flagrant this is.

    Google does have the technology and the brains to do just about whatever they want. I put up a video the other day where I *drowned a rat* and YouTube pulled it in a matter of minutes (*animal cruelty*!). They have also been pulling down videos with *copyrighted* songs embedded in them. Those, I would suppose take some expertise to mine out.

    Maybe in the long run it’s better to stick with Blogger so that Google is on your side when it comes to stolen content?

  7. DM RTA says:

    But what about Yahoo? Bing? Ask? etc….isn’t this a golden opportunity to segment the market and take charge? I am all for well thought out regulation that tackles outright theft of timely content…

    two things come to mind: What is the economic cost of an Asian Energy site that clips Barry’s content? Can that be even be measured and then can it be held back? That sounds messy for regulation but if a competitor does it then Google will b/c they know what’s good for them.

    second, how about the community dynamic? What if the world of blogs employed a community based grading system that allowed for grading quality and the standard was adopted by search companies as part of payment? Isn’t self regulation better than rules that can be made complex or just plain slow like the DMCA.

    I think Google is great but they will be much better when competition forces them to be…right now it reminds me a lot of a Model T Ford though they’d take issue with that…little competition and choice. Touch their money and it’ll change quickly.

    ~~~

    BR: Sure, Yahoo/Bing can get with the program — but it was Google that announced this change. I am saying that if they want to be serious, there is something else they can do to eliminate scam ads . . .

  8. jock says:

    Google should drop their first letter, and be called Oogle. Because when you look at them, they look back at you … But they never forget. So, the US or Chinese gov’t can find out all you do on Oogle apps. – If the chrome OS computers become mainstream, Oogle will be all-knowing …

    ~~~

    BR: When Google first launched, I thought it was a contraction of “Go Ogle.”

  9. Steve Barry says:

    “and one of the few on Wall Street who was allowed to speak about their IPO”

    I remember that…Google downplayed their IPO…gave very little info about how they were sitting on an imminent goldmine…and many in the media panned it as overpriced even at the lowball $85 dutch auction price.

    So what you might say…well, as luck would have it, soon after the IPO, Google insiders were awarded boatloads of stock options at very cheap prices…instant lottery tickets that paid off big. And who would complain? The stock rocketed and everybody was happy. But wait…being the skeptic that I am, I wonder…wouldn’t a lot of that money have gone to the corporation and not the insiders had the IPO priced correctly? And as insiders cash in those cheap options, do the other shareholders uffer? No wonder they don’t include options compensation in their “pro forma” earnings. Reason number 137 that Nasdaq is a bubble.

    ~~~

    BR: Yes, but pricing an IPO is as much Art as it is Science.

    I do not recall any one advocating a $300 IPO price back then . . .

  10. Steve Barry says:

    Google didn’t even provide financials to their own employees.

    http://www.out-law.com/page-5216

  11. BR,

    in re: this pilfered topic http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2009/04/read-it-here-first-what-good-are.html
    see “…This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed’s thrall, the economists missed it, too.

    “The Fed has a lock on the economics world,” says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. “There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong.”

    One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field’s gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll — and the rest have been in the past…”
    “Priceless: How The Federal Reserve Bought The Economics Profession”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/07/priceless-how-the-federal_n_278805.html

  12. Steve Barry says:

    Barry is always ahead of his time…his last post is dated Nov 24!

    ~~~

    BR: I wanted that to be the last post

  13. michaeld says:

    Google can do better by cooperating more with smaller companies. That will enhance their image.

    admin
    http://invetrics.com

  14. Chris says:

    I think if there is one thing you don’t want in the online-world – it would be Google patroling content. Laws and lawenforcement should do that. If they are not up to the task, try to improve them.

    ~~~

    BR: How about their own property, Blogger?

  15. Steve Barry says:

    BR: Yes, but pricing an IPO is as much Art as it is Science.

    I do not recall any one advocating a $300 IPO price back then . . .
    ________________________________________________________________

    That’s exactly my point…Google was amazingly able to tamper down expectations to such a degree that the stock was massively under-priced. The stock went from about 100 to 400 in one year…to 800 in 3 years.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=GOOG&t=my&l=on&z=m&q=l&c=

    What better way to legally make a fortune…award yourself cheap stock options right after IPO…and you can report “non-GAAP earnings” that exclude this compensation.

    http://ddo.typepad.com/ddo/2006/01/ny_post_chris_b.html

    All legal…but really NOT a good idea if you want accurately priced markets that won’t boom and bust. Analyst estimates should include stock compensation and companies should report that way.

    How can the average shareholder stop these massive stock awards? They would never win a proxy vote, because the insiders hold most shares anyway…plus this little tidbit:

    “Google’s set up a dual class stock structure. The publicly traded Class A stock and management-held Class B stocks have identical economic rights, but the Class B shares get 10 votes for each one that the Class A shares receive.”

    Google was able to re-price under-water options per the 1Q09 earnings release:

    “In March 2009, Google completed an offer to exchange certain employee stock options issued under Google’s 2004 Stock Plan (Exchange Offer). Certain previously granted options were exchanged for new, lower-priced stock options granted on a one-for-one basis. Options for an aggregate of approximately 7.6 million shares of Google’s Class A common stock were exchanged.”

    So when the stock finally did max out, employees were not held accountable…they had their strike prices lowered. Most investors don’t get bogged down with these “small details” unfortunately, until they wonder whay Nasdaq crashes the next time.

  16. cewing says:

    I use Blogger, and I agree with the idea of aggressively stamping out junk blog sites.

    If Google can create crawlers that can look at sites and index the information to be included on Google, why not crawlers that can figure out if a blog is nothing but ads, or require blog creators to “re-up” their blogs from time to time by e-mail, or some other way that forces blog creators to verify that an actual human is working on a blog?

  17. [...] Barry Ritholtz to Google, “Get rid of the splogs, and you also dramatically reduce demand for the junk ads.”  (Big Picture) [...]

  18. Transor Z says:

    Barry, this is what federal court is for. How much $$ is Google passively siphoning off in aggregate revenue while arguably on notice of repeat violations by various splogs?

    It might come down to you and a few of the other major bloggers stepping up and forcing the issue…

  19. howard0339 says:

    I think we are in a brand new time where old data points mean next to nothing and old “market signals” are useless over a term longer than a few months. We are educated to invest. Bonds for chicken shits, stocks for guys with balls, and real estate for those who don’t want to do anything with an investment other than allow inflation to work for them. So in spite of the evidence that stocks are a shit investment subject to moves based in part on illegal activity, a vehicle that must be traded (sometimes on an hourly basis) and watched carefully for each and every “signal”, we still believe that they are somehow a good investment. What we have now is a classic inflation in stocks: too much money chasing too few goods. We have been taught that we must invest all the time with our surplus money and never ever just put it in the bank. So in spite of really bad times for 17% of our population those with money are chasing stocks and just hoping….and hoping. It ain’t going to happen unless hyper inflation manages to bail us all out. The events that could bail us out are brand new products that we actually want, but with the upcoming socialized medicine tax suck ain’t likely to happen. We are in the throes of money decay and the inflation of some assets. People making $20 to $40 per hour cannot bail us out. We need to face the fact that a majority of our population produces nothing but paper and a desire to consume as if they were rich while the rest of us who actually produce things have lost our voting power. In this “us vs them” war the lay around and consume based on entitlements are now ruling. Make money with this envious bunch of parasites? Sure……

  20. kbelenky says:

    Simply put, it is contrary to Google’s interests to wipe out the scammers. Statistics have been hard to come by, but I suspect the revenue the shady operations provide to Google are non-trivial on Google’s bottom line.

    A week or two ago on Slashdot there was a linked set of articles written as an expose on and by Facebook scam artists. The main point I took from it was that Facebook was extremely tolerant of the scammer’s activities so long as the ad revenue kept rolling in.

    One of the major catalysts of the first Dot-com bust was the realization that many ad-driven websites were making a large portion of their revenue selling links to each other. They bought ads to get people to their websites so that they could make ad revenue directing people to another website. There were remarkably few terminal sites, sites that would pay money for ads so that they could sell the user a real service. If Google ever manages to clean the scammers out of their customer base, I have a hunch that they, and the general public will find that Google has remarkably few customers who are trying to sell legitimate users a legitimate product or service.

    Google’s customers are not Google’s users. So far, because of Google’s golden-boy status it has been able to keep its user’s interests at the forefront (for the most part). Some day Google may be backed into a corner when its customers ask Google to do something that is not in their users’ best interests.

  21. I agree that Google can improve, but I think their strategy is to wash the “cut & paste blogs, splogs, and scrapper sites” down and out with low page rank.

    That might be OK, and non-Evil. Let anyone publish but only boost the seemingly genuine. Of course a lot depends on their robots identifying the genuine.

    I just set up this pseudonymous identity and blog with Google. I hope to make it “A public slice of me, in which I strive to be both honest and anonymous.” I also hope that if I write honestly and publicly I’ll be found to be genuine.

  22. Bob G. says:

    I went to Asian Energy and don’t see any ads on the site. How are they profiting from linking to The Big Picture?

    ~~~

    BR: 1) They used to have ads, now they don’t.

    2) Its not the links, its the copying wholseale of entire posts.

    3) Doesn’t have to be monetary — for whatever reason, they want traffic without working for it . . .

  23. foxorrabbit says:

    For all of the reasons Dan Duncan cites above, Google is absolutely (to its very core) evil. Don’t let them fool you BR.

  24. zridling says:

    Barry, this is not a google problem, but a wordpress problem. It’s an easy fix. You’ve received a virus in your wordpress blog that’s inserting a LOT of code and probably sending you thousands of spam messages daily. Have your admin take everything down, clear it out, and from now on be sure to perform wordpress upgrades as soon as they’re available. I had the same problem with ghosting and copycat sites.

    ~~~

    BR: I don’t think so . . .

  25. Bob G. says:

    Barry, I’ve seen you publish ideas from others on your site. For instance, today you linked to an article by Robert Shiller, “What if a Recovery Is All In Your Head,” published in the N. Y. Times. What’s the difference between this and the splogs you vilify?

  26. [...] will also collect your contact information and sell you as a lead back to a real, real estate agent.Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture addresses the problem and offers a solution.But if Google really wants to get serious about this, [...]

  27. rklau says:

    Hi Barry – I’m a product manager on Blogger, and appreciate you raising these issues.

    I’m gathering some data from various groups so I can write a more complete post on the subject – specifically, I am gathering some data on spam 12 and 24 months ago relative to today, as well as gathering specifics on our DMCA approach (including typical turn-around time from receipt to action on our part). I’ll send you a note when that post is up – I hope to have it in place next week.

    But in the interim, I’d like to say that we take spam very seriously, and have no incentive to allow it to remain on Blogger. Spam hurts our reputation – among individuals as well as among machines (like Google’s search engine, among others) – which hurts our brand and can negatively impact our business.

    Every blog we host includes a “flag blog” button in the navbar, which allows readers to tell us when a blog is violating our content policy; if a blogger has disabled that navbar, we provide a simple form to report here: http://www.google.com/support/blogger/bin/request.py?page=main_tos. And we have a number of internal algorithms (whose particulars we do not publicize, for obvious reasons) whose purpose is to identify clear cases of spam and remove them from the system.

    We revamped our DMCA policy this summer – http://buzz.blogger.com/2009/08/let-music-play.html – and in my regular meetings with our legal/policy teams, enforcement has been quite efficient of late. (Sounds like we didn’t respond in a timely manner on the posts you reported; I’m looking into what happened in that specific case.)

    While we can always improve – there remains spam on Blogger – we have dramatically reduced the overall amount of spam on Blogger over the last two years, and significantly curtailed the % of pageviews that we believe are spam. That said, if you have any data indicating that the problem remains particularly virulent on Blogger, by all means let me know about it. We’re committed to getting this right, and will take any external indicia of ongoing problems as useful guides to help benchmark against.

    In any event, I’m rklau@google.com, and my blog is at http://tins.rklau.com/. Keep in touch, and let me know what other ideas you have for improvement.

    –Rick