Once upon a time, oh so long ago, I used to be very into making YouTube videos. I started in 2009 and uploaded at least once a month or so up until this past September. (I’m not saying I’ll never make a video again, but this blog has kind of replaced my channel.) I’ve had my YouTube account since the year the site opened, and by the time I actually began creating my own videos advertisements were becoming more prevalent on the site, but you had to be specially invited into the Partner program in order to collect any of that revenue yourself. I had quickly realized that probably I wasn’t going to have massive YouTube fame ever, so I wasn’t too fussed by being cut off from this program.
But then around 2012 I spotted a notice that had popped up in the video manager area of the site — my good conduct had earned me the right to hook my account up to the big monetization machine. I waffled a little bit before deciding to take the plunge and sign on. Why not? Who knew what would happen? It took me a year and a half to reach the payment threshold of $100. It was a nice accomplishment, but, again, I didn’t tie the worth of my work to the numbers it brought it. What mattered to me what that I was enjoying myself and maybe getting to connect to a few people, which I did get to do in greater numbers than ever before the following year! (#TeamCake!)
And then, in the spring of 2014, as I slowly drew close to the payment threshold for only the second time, I received an alarming message. My AdSense had been disabled for “invalid click activity.” I could file an appeal to try to save myself, but I only got the one appeal and if it was denied then that was that — banned from using AdSense for life. I had one video that was about hairstyling My Little Pony toys that had gotten many times more views than any other of my videos, and I assumed that this was the problem. I included any information in my appeal that I thought would help me, but ultimately I was rejected. And so I did what any good YouTuber would do and made an angry rant video.
I’m actually quite fond of this video. It really makes me laugh, even four years later! And I think I bring up some valid points about the whole process. For instance, they never even fully specified, in any detail, what I was supposed to have done to make the “invalid click activity” happen. (My research at the time told me there’s a whole variety of things that fall under this umbrella, from clicking your own ads, to using robots to do it for you en masse.) Google claimed the opaqueness is because they don’t want people to know how they figure out when misbehavior is happening. I thought (and think) that it’s so people have a harder time defending themselves so they can share money with fewer people.
(And, to go on a tangent, honestly that whole “we’re demonetizing all the small creators” thing they pulled this winter only serves to back up this opinion of mine, although I also feel that situation is related to their consistent lack of punishment when it comes to the massive fuckups that some of the massive personalities have made in the past couple of years. If they’d just properly discipline the PDPs and LgPls of the site, maybe advertisers wouldn’t be running away and Google wouldn’t have to steal from the poor to feed the rich. Taking away a person’s YouTube Red program, but still letting them have ads is NOT A REAL PENALTY. Anyway, tangent done.)
But if they were more specific perhaps I could have put together a stronger appeal because I was totally innocent. (Additional fun fact: as soon as you receive the, “You’re getting demonetized, try to appeal,” email, you’re locked out of the AdSense website, which might also hold helpful information for your appeal.) I am a huge square who is constantly worried about whether I’m behaving in all aspects of my life. I did nothing at all to deserve a permanent ban from what is probably the biggest advertising service on the internet. My numbers were the same consistently low numbers that they had always been. I don’t know how I got caught in the “invalid click activity” net, but I did, and I’m still slightly bitter about it.
If you actually take the time to watch the video I’ve included here, you might notice that I throw out the idea, “Hmm, isn’t it a little bit suspicious that they’ve disabled my AdSense shortly before they’re going to have to pay me?” And apparently I’m not the only person that’s ever thought that. I was recently cleaning up my various email inboxes, including checking the spam folders to make sure nothing important had wound up there by mistake. And in the spam box of the email for my YouTube account was an email telling me about a class action settlement, that I might be able to collect a little bit of money from!
The lawsuit is captioned Free Range Content, Inc. v. Google LLC. and to pull a quote from the settlement agreement, the most basic description of the complaint is: “Plaintiffs alleged that Google terminated AdSense publishers from the AdSense program and improperly withheld unpaid amounts in those publishers’ AdSense account.” They also alleged that Google would do these terminations shortly before money was due to be paid. At some point during the proceedings, the lawsuit became a class action situation, which is how I received a message about potentially receiving a piece of the $11,000,000 of settlement money. (The terms of the settlement still have to be approved by the court, as per this FAQ.)
I naturally did some research, because it sounded kind of fake. But after coming across several different articles corroborating the information, I submitted a Confirmation of Claim form to try and get my piece of the pie. I’m not certain that I’ll get all $90ish that was in my AdSense at the time Google disabled me, as there are going to be different payment groups that will receive different percentages of their balance depending on several factors. Since I work at a law firm, I’d like to point out settlement obviously does not mean Google is admitting fault. In fact, the settlement agreement I linked above specifically states that Google has denied wrongdoing.
But it’s still a good feeling for me that a lawsuit and settlement has happened at all! Even if I don’t get any money, I feel vindicated knowing that, yes, perhaps Google misbehaved in regards to me and others, and they are now going to pay up because of it.