Is Google doing advertising evil with new model?

Was there ever a world without “do no evil” Google? Yes, just ten years ago!
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
Was there ever a world without “do no evil” Google? Yes, just ten years ago!

Google has become an intrinsic part of the world’s culture and it is only eight years old. Despite its youth, Google has already engendered significant Googley lore: Everyone’s favorite garage band, Google-it!

Perhaps the most (in)famous Google saying: Do no evil!

Google has not only grown much richer in its short time at bat, it has targeted much more than Larry & Sergey’s founding search engine, as Google acknowledges:

Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can offer –- web search, for instance, isn't the only way for people to access or use information -– and products that then seemed unlikely are now key aspects of our portfolio. This doesn't mean we've changed our core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects).

What about the core Google “do no evil” operating principle? Google’s “Our Philosophy” still proclaims “You can make money without doing evil” is one of the “Ten things Google has found to be true.”

Google has mastered the “making money” part, but what about the “do no evil” part?

Google on "making money without doing evil":

The revenue the company generates is derived from offering its search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on Google and on other sites across the web. Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a "Sponsored Link." It is a core value for Google that there be no compromising of the integrity of our results...Our users trust Google's objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.

Google may soon be amending its making money without doing evil description. WHY? Google’s “new pricing model,” Pay Per Action (PPA) advertising:

Advertisers to pay only when specific actions that they define are completed by a user on their site. Rather than paying for clicks or impressions, advertisers can choose to pay when a user makes a purchase, signs up for a newsletter, or completes any other clearly defined action that they choose.

Sounds too (Googley) good to be true?

What about the user experience? Advertising on Google may “always be clearly identified as a "Sponsored Link." But what about the new Google Pay Per Action AdWords served to Google “content partners’ in the AdSense network?

Is Google’s “do no evil” logic getting fuzzy?

Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, Google co-founders, warned of the potential for advertising evil in their Google prototype developed at Stanford University:

The predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users…we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers. Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious…advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results…In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines.

Brin and Page declared their intent to take the “high road,” regarding search engine advertising:

We believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.

Brin, Page and the Google team apparently are less concerned today about maintaining transparency when they serve AdWords off of Google owned properties, to third-party sites in the Google AdSense network for example.

Last June, Google touted the new “flexibility” of a “Cost Per Action” product to "publishing partners":

We are giving you more flexibility in saying things like "I recommend this product" or "Try JetBlue today" next to the CPA ad unit. However, you should still not incite someone to click on the ad, so saying "Click Here" is not ok.

Now, Google is touting “embedded” referrals:

What is the text link format for pay-per-action ads?

Text links are hyperlinked brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher's page. Publishers can place them in line with other text to better blend the ad and promote your product.

For example, you might see the following text link embedded in a publisher's recommendatory text: "Widgets are fun! I encourage all my friends to Buy a high-quality widget today." (Mousing over the link will display "Ads by Google" to identify these as pay-per-action ads)…just use your brand name to offer maximum flexibility to the publisher.

Google’s new PPA ad format, taking on the characteristics of a publisher’s page touting recommendatory text, is in stark contrast with Google’s existing AdSense prohibitions against “encouraging clicks”:

In order to ensure a good experience for users and advertisers, publishers may not request that users click the ads on their sites or rely on deceptive implementation methods to obtain clicks.

Publishers participating in the AdSense program

May not encourage users to click the Google ads by using phrases such as "click the ads," "support us," "visit these links," or other similar language,

May not direct user attention to the ads via arrows or other graphical gimmicks,

May not place misleading images alongside individual ads,

May not place misleading labels above Google ad units - for instance, ads may be labeled "Sponsored Links" but not "Favorite Sites"

NOW, with Google’s new PPA advertising model, Google is encouraging the “encouraging of clicks,” while keeping the “Ads by Google” disclaimer quietly (deceptively?) under users’ mice.

Is Google compromising the integrity of the advertising it serves? Is Google now doing advertising evil?

ALSO: Google: Sergey Brin on ad revenue knob

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