AdSense, nonsense: Does Google have too much power?

When Google sneezes, thousands of small businesses catch pneumonia. Does the search giant wield too much power over the online ad market?

Google's ad programs have made it possible for thousands of small businesses to a make a go of it in the Net economy. Get on Google's bad side, though, and it's like waking up a hibernating grizzly bear -- you'll be lucky to escape with all your limbs intact.

Mac developer M. P. found this out the hard way last June when, practically overnight, Google stopped carrying search ads for one of his company's new products. The reason? They claimed his ads were infringing on Apple's trademarks. As a longtime member of Apple's Developer Connection, M. P. begged to differ. He even got Apple's attorneys to say as much in a letter to Google.

Google responded with a thank you note to the Apple attorney but did not reactivate the ads. When we asked about the ads, they wrote to say they didn't get the letter. I guess they didn't see the cc to us in the note to Apple. We asked Apple to send the letter again. As before, after receipt of said authorization, a note from Google to Apple acknowledging the authorization and... then... nothing.

M. P. tried again to get Google to reinstate the ads, resubmitting them multiple times for further review. Weeks passed. Finally, nearly two months after the de-activation, his ads were quietly reinstated. That was too late for his company, which had designed a Google-centric marketing plan for an upcoming trade show.

In the search ad business they call this getting "Google Slapped."

Last month, the New York Times ran a profile of - a "business-to-business search engine" that also found itself on the bad side of the G-men. Sourcetool owner Dan Savage had been spending about US$500K a month on Google AdWords to drive traffic to his site, and pocketing a little over US$600K per month in pay-per-click AdSense revenue -- a tidy little profit.

One day Savage woke up to discover his traffic had fallen off a cliff. After some digging, he discovered ads that used to cost him 5 cents per click now cost a minimum of $5 dollars per click -- which means Google had stopped displaying them. Savage says that when he demanded to know why he'd been singled out for this treatment, Google told him to go away and stop bothering them.

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