The owner of Fark.com is furious at Google and wants it to reimburse him for five weeks of lost ads – thanks to a five-year-old story that featured a picture of a girl wrongly believed to be underage.
Drew Curtis has taken out his anger in a blog post on the long-running news aggregation website, having been overwhelmed with the irony of having ads pulled over a pic that previously saw a man in Puerto Rico wrongly arrested.
Google informed Curtis that it has identified a banned image on Fark.com and thus was pulling the ability for him to run Google ads on the site – something that resulted in a "huge financial hit" thanks to the five weeks it took to resolve.
Why five weeks? Because, according to Curtis, Google's right arm doesn't know what its left arm is doing. As soon as he received the email saying he had a banned image on his site, he responded immediately, asking the obvious question: where? It took Google three days to respond, pointing out the offending image.
"Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right," he rails.
What's all the more bizarre is that the picture itself was taken from a news article that was all about how the picture was not, in fact, of an underage girl.
Back in 2010, a man was acquitted of possessing underage material precisely because the girl was incorrectly identified as being under 16. While in Venezuela, he had bought a pirated DVD of sexy snaps of women and was stopped by customs officials in Puerto Rico because agents, having clocked her photo on the disc, thought she looked underage.
It went to trial and a child psychologist testified that she had to be a child. Except, of course, she wasn't. Someone actually tracked down the girl in question and got her to the courtroom – where she revealed she was actually 19 at the time.
He was cleared, and an article was written about it complete with the – to be honest, pretty innocent – image that had got him into trouble in the first place.
And then, five years later, Google decided that it was an underage girl again, pulling Fark's ad as a result. No doubt, Google's algorithms also picked up some red-flag terms in the associated article that reinforced its wrong belief that the picture was something it wasn't. But Curtis' fury comes from the fact that not only was he not contacted before the cut-off call was made, but it took him weeks to resolve the issue. "It is literally impossible to contact Google Policy without going through an intermediary," he complains. "And even intermediaries have immense difficulty contacting Google Policy. First contact with Google Policy took two full weeks."
There is also another ironic reason why Fark may have been hit so hard: because the site does not engage in social media marketing and makes itself as invisible as possible to search engines, it looks suspicious to Google. After all, who wouldn't want to plaster themselves in front of as many people as possible?
Curtis also claims this is far from the only time that Google has got things badly wrong. "In talking with other media companies, I've discovered that my experience is unfortunately not an uncommon one. Many other sites I've talked to have had this same thing happen to them – some have even gone under as a result. They're afraid of being blacklisted by Google so they don't talk about it publicly."
And if you doubt that, consider this: despite the subject of this article being a picture of an innocent-looking girl aged 19, we are not going to add it to this article. Why? Because the risk of Google deciding again that it is somehow illegal is not worth the hassle and potential lost revenue if it does. (Yes, we carry Google ads from time to time in some regions of the world.)
We suspect The Register would be able to get to Google's Policy team a little easier and faster than Fark (mostly because we know them). But even so, even just one day's delay is not worth the risk.
What was that you were saying about Google being too powerful? ®