Meet the entrepreneur who took on Google after his AdSense account was suspended – and won

A two-year-old travel advice website has scored a victory against Google, with the search engine giant reinstating Rusty Compass’ AdSense account and repaying the $131 it had withheld following a months-long drama.


Rusty Compass complained to New South Wales Fair Trading after Google suspended its AdSense advertising account in September last year, citing concerns the site “posed a risk of generating invalid activity”.


Rusty Compass founder Mark Bowyer told SmartCompany this morning that after complaining to the media and contacting NSW Fair Trading, Google reinstated his account and gave back $131 in revenue.


He says the inference that Rusty Compass had clicked on its own site or paid people to click on it for such a small amount of money is “absurd”.


“I knew I was innocent of anything deliberate or serious so I went to Fair Trading,” Bowyer says. “I have created most of the content myself and it’s not a cheap way to make money.”


Bowyer was riled when Google sent an automatic email saying his appeal was rejected, with no explanation as to why.


Bowyer says the case likely came about because Google’s algorithm made an assessment something was amiss – but a five-minute phone call would have solved the issue.


“The refusal to have any human interface is distressing,” he says.


“My sense is there are so many people who have been kicked off the AdSense platform. Google has the right to kick people off if it can prove its claims, but they should have to meet some standard of procedural fairness.”


“And giving no information to the appellant party is absurd,” he says.


He says the case is important because Google is “at the centre of publishing and increasingly broadcasting”.


“It’s essential infrastructure, and it’s very hard to be a small publisher or a start-up broadcaster without being on-side with Google so we need their judgements to be spot-on.”


There’s also a reputation issue at stake, Bowyer says. “If in the future I’m looking for investors, it doesn’t look good being kicked off.”


Rusty Compass calls itself an “independent online resource for serious travellers” and is focused on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, but plans to expand to China, India and Burma. It plans to fund itself through a combination of advertising and producing apps for smartphones and tablets.


Google this afternoon defended its procedures, saying it believed its system “balances the needs of publishers, advertisers and users to provide the best possible experience for all.”


The company said that protecting its advertisers’ interests by monitoring invalid click activity is one way it strives to “keep the network a balanced ecosystem where users, publishers, and advertisers can all grow and thrive together.”


“If we determine that an AdSense account may pose a risk to our advertisers or the experience of individual users, we may disable that account to protect the health of the network,” Google said.


“If a publisher feels that the decision to suspend their AdSense account was made in error, and if they can maintain in good faith that the invalid activity was not due to the actions or negligence of themselves or those for whom they are responsible, they can appeal the disabling of their account.


“Accounts will be reinstated on a case by case basis.”


The company added that because it needs to protect its proprietary detection system, it is “unable to provide our publishers with any information about their account activity, including any web pages, users, or third-party services that might have been involved.”


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