Monday, December 19, 2016

Dear Google: I am not a fraud

In 2010, Google declared my blog a fraud.

This has been bothering me for six years. I have been called a lot of things, but few stung like this: the most powerful company in the world called me a fraud.

Meanwhile, Google has been paying people who write posts like "Pope Endorses Trump" tens of thousands of dollars.

Until the November election, I thought this was just a mistake by Google: an algorithm that somehow mischaracterized me. But now I realize I'm a flyspeck in a large pattern.

The major sources of news on the Internet, Google and Facebook, have created an information reward structure that enriches people who invent blatant lies, the more outrageous the better. As for someone like me, who tries to provide original content that is actually true ... well, let me tell you about my reward.

I started this blog in 2009. Some of my first posts were long journalistic pieces like I had written for newspapers and magazines. Others were short and silly. But none of them were made up. I make phone calls, I check documents. I tell the truth here at The Gray Report.

But I'm stupid. When I started the blog, I had no plans for publicizing it or monetizing it or anything-tizing it. I'm a writer, not a businessman.

I did want to make a little money, so I signed up for Google Ad Sense. This allowed Google to run ads from anywhere on my blog, which means Google made some money on my blog, but since I use Google's Blogger to write it, that was fine. I didn't know how long it would take me to get a check, but I figured some money is better than no money.

In 2010, after I blogged for a year -- a year of reporting news for no money -- I got an email: I had made some money! Hurray! Google would send me a check for $133! All I had to do was give Google my social security number. Which I did.

Just days later, I got another email from Google telling me, "After reviewing our records, we've determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity. Because we have a responsibility to protect our AdWords advertisers from inflated costs due to invalid activity, we've found it necessary to disable your AdSense account. Your outstanding balance and Google's share of the revenue will both be fully refunded back to the affected advertisers."

Google also stopped payment on the check, as I learned when I tried to cash it. Just like a Nigerian scammer, Google used the promise of payment to phish my social security number.

I appealed. Google asked a series of questions like, "Do you give users incentives to read your site?" Um, I don't know ... they read it. "Do you buy traffic?" No, I don't have the money to do that. I just write stuff and people read it or not. At the time, I was a very old-school journalist, and I didn't want to brag about my credentials.

Besides, we were only talking about $133 here after a year of blogging. How could Google be serious?

Google denied my appeal. I'm still considered a "risk of generating invalid activity" by Google to this day.

This has bothered me for six years. But when I found out about the writers who Google is paying, I really got angry.

Macedonians who invent news like "BREAKING: Obama Confirms Refusal To Leave White House, He Will Stay In Power!" make $10,000 a month! A month! Google pays them, but it called me a fraud.

This is typical of Google and Facebook. They have created a system in which legitimate writers and editors are not rewarded for our work. Just last week Facebook announced it's finally going to do some fact-checking into all the fake news it runs. Great!

Guess how much the $350 billion company, Facebook, will pay its copy editors? The same amount Google paid me: $0. Facebook has more resources than any newspaper or TV company, but it will ask other companies to do the basic work of checking Facebook's product quality for free. And journalists are stupid enough to do it. Look at me! I'm that stupid!

Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos was concerned enough about the tech industry's impact on journalism that he bought the Washington Post, and is maintaining it as one of the best sources of legitimate news in the world. I heartily applaud Bezos for seeing a problem and spending his own money to address it.

What are Facebook and Google doing? Unlike Bezos, they're not paying for facts, so society doesn't get what Facebook and Google won't pay for. Vladimir Putin didn't build our information reward structure. Google and Facebook did.

After reading the NBC News story about how Google rewards fake news writers, I imagined someone doing the sort of smart blogging that our information economy rewards: setting up a fake news site about food and writing successful posts like "Lose 10 pounds in a week by eating only chocolate ice cream!" and "Hillary Clinton has a secret plan to poison lettuce." This is what young ambitious American bloggers should be writing if they want to make money.

But I'm not that smart. I'm not the kind of blogger Google rewards.

Instead, I tilted at the windmill of my lost dignity. I appealed my fraud status to Google again, and this time I bragged a little. I reported that I was named the world's best wine blogger at the 2013 Roederer Awards. I won an award for Best Industry Blog from the Wine Blog Awards. Just last month I won an award for Best Investigative Story from the Born Digital Wine Awards.

I think these commendations prove that I am delivering content of value to someone. But I haven't made as much money in six years of blogging as what that Macedonian teenager makes in a single week of posting updates on pizzagate. Fabrication sells.

I got no response from Google to my recent appeal. So I'm still officially a "risk of generating invalid activity," while Google has helped destroy the very concepts of truth and facts.

I'm taking a big risk in running this on my blog. I fear Google. It has my social security number.

But I want to get this off my chest, as I've been burning with it for six years.

Google, your slogan used to be "Don't be evil." But you have helped to ruin journalism. In the world of online information, you have richly rewarded the villains. You have helped destroy public belief in truth. If that's not doing evil, what is?

You all have the big brains. Why don't you apply them to correcting the cockeyed information reward structure you have created? I write mostly about wine and spirits, so I'm not the most important fact provider to reward.

But Google, you do owe me $133. You have my address.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.
Dear Reader: you can't fix the information reward structure by yourself, 
but you can brighten my Christmas with a visit to the Tip Jar at right. 


Gary & Alison Dyer said...

Go get 'em, Mr. GRAY.

Bob Rossi said...

" I'm still considered a "risk of generating invalid activity" by Google"
Now what exactly does that mean?

Alternate View said...

You had me until you mentioned Bezos, The Washington Post, and credible journalism.

D. Russell Smith said...

Dear Mr. Gray,
It appears you're as guilty of misleading people as much as Google or Facebook. Google did not call you a fraud. The reason you received a "generating invalid activity" is explained very simply at this link:
There must have been unusual activity by someone regarding ad clicks on your blog. It doesn't matter who did this. Google does have an obligation to their advertisers to make sure marketing dollars are spent effectively.
I notice that your blog contains advertising so you've obviously inspired sponsorship by someone other than Google. I clicked on the ad on your blog and was taken to a website that encouraged me to transfer money to Nigerian banks. That website is:
Do you endorse the products of this sponsor? You owe your readers an explanation.
You rail against Facebook and Google for their lack of fact-checking while publishing unsubstantiated allegations against Macedonians and Pakistanis. Please cite your sources and provide specific evidence for these allegations.
You annoy me profoundly, Mr. Gray. You are a veritable fountain of sensationalism and polemic. I replied to your post:
and you deleted my response. Please note that I'm not calling you a fraud. I will, however, characterize you as a whingeing twit.
For heaven's sake, please grow up, shut up and lighten up. It's Christmas!
D. Russell Smith

Bob Rossi said...

What a bizarre comment from "D. Russell Smith." I assume it's a joke, although it's a bit ascerbic for a joke.

jo6pac said...

"Don't be evil." Unless there is profit to be made. This sound like something a Ferengi would say in rules of acquisition.

jeff booze and the washington post make up news also just ask Ives Smith at Naked Capitalism. They have hired an attorney along with several other sites to sue them.

Speaking of lightening up d. russell smith you might want to try that yourself if that isn't an attempt at humor.

Unknown said...

I don't know D. Russell Smith.

Out of ignorance I was unaware of his blogs until tonight. I have never read anything he has written.

Consequently, I have no animus for the man.

Self-evidently he has been around for some time, as he has almost 1,300 Blogger profile views.

(More than twice as many as me. No doubt a subject I should take up with the Electoral College. What's their phone number again?)

Given the tone of his comment, I am surprised he didn't lead with the following riposte:

"Blake Gray writes, 'In 2010, Google declared my blog a fraud.'

"Hey, what took them so long?"

Bob Rossi said...

"No doubt a subject I should take up with the Electoral College"
Isn't that a unit of Trump U?

Unknown said...

Bob Rossi:

In the case of the Electoral College, at least we all know that when it comes to the participants there is no graduation ceremony.

By design.

In the case of Trump U., no one ever matriculated there long enough to reach the graduation ceremony.

(Some might say, also by design.)

~~ Bob