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Monday, May 22, 2006

Google Settlement is Bogus

The Google click fraud case settlement is bogus for so many reasons. Where to begin? Consider this: Google owns Blogger so is obviously well aware of the importance of blogging yet the AdWords blog didn't mention the "Important Legal Notice Regarding Your Google AdWords Account" emails until after they were sent. Read Lane's Gifts v. Google Settlement to see what I mean. Think about that. Google didn't notify its advertisers until after the fact. Many people thought the email was a phishing expedition. The email is not from Google but comes from an xmr3.com domain. Certainly looks bogus. I can see why people thought the email about click fraud was a fraud. How's that for irony?

Here's where it starts to look bad for Google. If you examine the xmr3.com domain you'll find a company that provides email marketing and fax blast services. Fax blast services?! Great, Google has turned over its list of emails that its customers use to access Google AdWords accounts to a company that likely borders on spamming. I didn't click on the link in the email. The link reads www.clicksettlement.com but is actually linked to what looks like a tracking URL that's routed through a pull.xmr3.com domain. I suspect that if you clicked on the link in your email, your email would now be added to this xmr3 company's email marketing and fax blast list. Nice move, Google. Don't be evil? How about don't be stupid? Geez! This is just plain clumsy.

If you read the settlement notice, you'll realize that Google is actually being rather shrewd here. They don't want anyone to take action. If you do nothing, you "will give up your ability to sue Google over the subject matter of this case." I think that's Google's primary goal in this case, to limit future lawsuits. As a shareholder (full disclosure), I see this as a good move. As an advertiser and Qualified Google Advertising Professional who manages advertising for other firms, I'm not too keen on this move.

What else is bogus about this settlement? Google is going to create a $90 million settlement fund, "of which a portion will be used to pay class counsel's fees and costs, and the remainder will be available to class members in the form of advertising credits that may be applied to up to 50% of the cost of future online advertising purchased from Google." It's not real money, then. It's credits that could be applied to future advertising. IOW, it's future revenue for Google. Again, a rather shrewd move. Here's where it gets rather bogus. The real money does exist but only for the lawyers in the case. According to the notice, "Google has agreed that it will not oppose an award of up to $30 million to class counsel." Don't be evil, huh? This certainly smells rotten.

I'm leaning toward opting out. The instructions for opting out are to send a signed letter requesting exclusion to this address:
Google Settlement Opt Out
c/o Gilardi & Co. LLC
P.O. Box 808070
Petaluma, CA 94975-8070

Now, I don't really think click fraud is as big of a problem as it's being made to be, so my initial reaction was to simply do nothing. However, reading the details of the settlement, I'm feeling rather irritated with Google and with the companies who filed this suit and their lawyers and the company that sent out the settlement notice email. Lame all around. That's all I can say.

What's most troubling is the way Google is handling the matter. They should have sent the notice or at least an email or phone call letting advertisers know it was coming. At the very least, Google should have posted to the official AdWords blog prior to the email delivery. I'm beginning to wonder if the lack of communication is intentional on Google's part. If that's the case, then this situation is downright shameful. Incidentally, I'd like to hear from "Lane's Gifts and Collectibles and Max Caulfield d/b/a Caulfield Investigations" who originally brought the suit. What will they get out of this?

Hmm, what will you do? Opt out? Do nothing? Object?

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