Why Hasn’t Google Cleared, Fired Or Suspended Accused AdWords Employee?

Google takes plenty of well-publicized heat for things it hasn’t really done or concerns that get hyped. But in the case of one of its AdWords employees being accused of bypassing AdWords policies for his own benefit, I’m surprised the Big G isn’t being dragged over the coals. Over a month after the initial accusations, the person appears to still be fully employed at Google, without Google issuing any public comment about the case.

In early April, Jeremy “ShoeMoney” Schoemaker filed suit against Keyen Farrell — a Google AdWords account coordinator — alleging that Farrell was infringing on his trademark via Google AdWords.

Skip the general debate over what constitutes trademark infringement in search ads. The far bigger issues for Google are:

  • Did one of their employees access an advertiser’s account to datamine keywords to help promote his own non-Google side business?
  • Did one of their employees somehow override Google’s system that was supposed to prevent the trademarked term “ShoeMoney” from being used in ads?

When the story first broke, Farrell himself made no public comment (my voicemail message to him was never returned; no other publications I follow seem to have gotten a comment from him, either).

For its part, back then, Google simply told me:

While we take this kind of allegation seriously, we’re not able to comment on specifics right now.

That was then, and I can understand the company not wanting to immediately comment about allegations it apparently had just learned about.

This is now, nearly a month later, with a new chapter opened. Farrell’s made his first statements now via legal documents, where we learn that:

  • He’s apparently still employed at Google.
  • He denies having circumvented any Google policy relating to trademark usage
  • He denies having accessed Schoemaker’s account

I didn’t see anything in his filing with proof of the latter two statements from Google itself. But given that he’s still working for Google, I can only assume:

  1. Google did an internal investigation into what happened and decided there was no wrongdoing on Farrell’s part
  2. Google’s still investigating the case, and despite serious allegations, is allowing Farrell full access to accounts
  3. Google hasn’t investigated anything

None of these are reassuring for Google’s advertisers. Farrell deserves due process and a right to a fair trial, assuming the case goes that far. Nor do I think employees should be suspended or fired simply on the basis of allegations.

But we’re a month into it, now. Google has had ample time to investigate the allegations and come to its own conclusions. If it believes Farrell’s done nothing wrong in terms of its own policies and procedures, he should continue to be employed. If it doesn’t know, then perhaps he should be suspended (with pay) until Google does determine what happened. If he has violated those policies, then it’s appalling that he might still be working as usual for Google.

Say something, Google. I understand that there’s the possibility that a lawsuit against one of your employees could get joined as a lawsuit against Google itself, so Google might feel it’s not prudent to make any public statement. But then again, what if this were an employee accused of tapping into Google’s billing records, in order to use credit cards for their own personal gain? Would anyone tolerate that Google would stay silent a month into the situation while the employee publicly states they’re still working for the company, apparently without restriction?

As for Farrell’s denials, I found it striking that he claims to have had no knowledge of Schoemaker or his web site, yet Farrell doesn’t explain how the term “shoemoney” ended up on his keyword list. Magic?

Well, Farrell could have ended up with “shoemoney” on his list thanks to Google’s own tools. If he started with some particular keywords, various Google tools potentially might have suggested “shoemoney” as an additional term.

For example, if I enter “airlines” as a term, Google suggests that I might want to bid on:

  • china airlines
  • korean airlines
  • british airlines

Or similarly, if I enter “google” as a term, it suggests I might bid on:

  • google
  • google maps
  • google earth

In the examples above, all the suggestions are based off the root word entered. But suggestions aren’t always that way. For example, using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, searching for “making money” brings up “data entry at home” as a suggestion.

Alternatively, that tool can be pointed at a particular web site and have suggestions generated based on that site’s content. For instance, I pointed the tool at Digital Point, and it suggested terms like “Google AdSense” and “Google,” both of which are trademark terms.

Possibly I’ve handed Farrell a defense, though it would have been a heck of a lot stronger if he’d suggested these himself as part of his court filings. Instead, he’s just silent.

That leads to another key part of his filing, where he says:

Google has a policy that it does not allow advertisers to use a registered trademark in the text of sponsored links. When a keyword is submitted for an “AdWords” account, the keyword is run through the Google system. If the keyword is a registered trademark, the Google system is supposed to prevent the trademark from appearing in the text of the ad.

I relied upon this internal review at Google in setting up the “AdWords” account

Google’s internal review process failed to prevent the term “shoemoney” from appearing in the text of the ads with the “AdWords” account I opened on January 22, 2009.

Hmm. As I demonstrated earlier, I wasn’t able to get an ad approved using the term “shoemoney” in it. But this happened because I explicitly used that term in ad copy. When Farrell says that he relied on Google to filter out trademarked terms, that means he explicitly created ads that used the word “shoemoney” in them.

Why would he do this, when he claimed no knowledge of Shoemoney’s site? It makes no sense.

There is one exception. This is dynamic keyword insertion, or DKI, where Google will automatically insert any targeted term into the text of an ad.

Schoemaker says he hasn’t been able to use dynamic keyword insertion to get ads with his trademark showing, and he says others who have tried this have also failed. However, there have been reports (see here and here) that DKI does get around the trademark barrier for ad copy. And Google’s help page on DKI says:

As always, all your ads and keywords must meet our advertising policies.

The mention of “must meet our advertising policies” implies that this means advertisers themselves must ensure trademarked terms aren’t going to show through DKI.

Again, perhaps I’m handing Farrell a further defense — he can claim it was DKI that did it. But again, it’s notable that he does NOT suggest this as an explanation, especially nearly a month after the case was filed, when this scenario as been discussed. Plus being involved with AdWords, you’d expect him to have an intimate knowledge of how AdWords operates.

Overall, Google should clarify the DKI situation with trademarks as soon as possible (and if it does override existing trademark bans in the system, fix that situation.

More important, the company should speak up over the status of its own internal investigation into the matter.

Postscript: Going through my notes, I came across this screenshot that Schoemaker has on his site:

This is a screenshot of Schoemaker says Farrell sent to him when he was investigating what happened, before filing suit.

If accurate, it shows that Farrell had organized a specific set of terms into a “Tier2_Shoe Money” group, terms all related to the Shoemoney brand. I can see that Google might have somehow initially suggested these terms to him as described above. But it makes little sense that he would have retained them. To make a group suggests he carefully reviewed all the terms on his overall list and decided these deserved to be kept. Why do that, if he was unfamiliar with the site?

In addition, the {KeyWord:Shoe Money} code is dynamic insertion syntax telling Google to insert any of the keywords on this list, if they are searched for, into the ad’s title — and in the case that they don’t fit, then the code says to use the words “Shoe Money” by default. To my understanding, there’s no way Google would have automatically established DKI to work like this for the group. Farrell would have had to make a conscious that the wanted Shoemoney-related terms to appear in his ad copy — which is odd for someone who says he knew nothing about the site.

Postscript: See Google Finds No Data Misuse In Shoemoney Trademark Case.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Features: Analysis | Google: AdWords | Google: Critics | Google: Employees | Legal: Trademarks | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    The mention of a employee using credit cards for their own personal gain cleared up my perspective on this, good analogy. Interesting to see how this plays out.

  • zymetrical

    More alarming is that at least from the screenshot, this appears to be just one of over 1,300 ad groups in that “US Core Broad” campaign. Presumably, someone spent alot of time researching & building those out from scratch.

  • http://www.buzzmaven.com scottclark

    Here’s another scenario that is quite realistic.

    He may have been using a tool like SpeedPPC which, in a matter of minutes, lets you generate thousands of custom Ad texts using its own form of DKI. Then, uploaded via Google Adwords Editor, stuff can easily slip through if you’re careless. The lists that it spits out are huge – scrolling on forever and it would be easy to miss.

    I’ve had cases where trademarked terms have made it right through filters and I’ve had to add them as negative keyphrases to avoid violations.

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